Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

This is not a caper film, because it's based on a true story, but Steven Spielberg treats it as such.

Frank Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio), the bright kid from a middle-class home, who left school at 16 to become an accomplished con man and fraudster, is the hero of the piece. Not since Ocean's Eleven has theft appeared so easy, or so attractive.

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The film begins at the end and then dodges back in time haphazardly, leaving huge gaps. After two-and-a-half hours, the audience is left asking questions.

In order to feel sympathetic towards Frank - not difficult with DiCaprio turning on the charm - he has to have a good reason for becoming a crook. Spielberg has no difficulty providing this, as his weakness for sentimentality always concerns the family, which, like Norman Rockwell's artwork, represents the heartland of his American dream.

Frank loves his dad (Christopher Walken), who gets into trouble with the taxman and has to sell house, business and everything. Frank ends up in a hell school, where he impersonates a teacher, rather than be subjugated to the whims of the bullies, and his mom (Nathalie Baye) starts an affair with one of her husband's rich friends, which leads to the break-up of the marriage. All Frank wants is to make it alright again. This excuse hardly holds water, as he steals almost $4million through counterfeit checks before being caught in France, while his mom marries the other guy and his dad ends up working for the Post Office.

As well as becoming an expert forger, Frank palms himself off as an airline pilot, doctor and even attorney, although insists that he passed the Atlanta law exams, without cheating, after two weeks of study. What he has going for him is personality, self-confidence and his father's romantic idealism.

On his tail is FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) and his team of oafs. It becomes personal. Frank rings Carl every Christmas Eve to ask about his estranged daughter - another dysfunctional family - and wish him well. Spielberg portrays the Feds as blundering idiots, not quite Keystone Cops, but close enough. Hanks blusters through with comic finesse, suitable disguised in funereal garb, complete with homberg and snub-nosed revolver.

The message is clear: crime pays. In the Spielberg oeuvre, this would be listed under Entertainment. It's never dull and always looks good, although the Sixties have become the Fifties - not a hippie, or civil rights marcher in sight.

DiCaprio is infinitely better here than in Gangs Of New York. The old charisma is back and all those rumours of flab injections can be scotched once and for all - until the next time.

Reviewed on: 30 Jan 2003
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True story of a boy who conned his way into being an airline pilot.
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Lottie Oaktrees **

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writer: Jeff Nathanson, based on the books by Frank W Abagnale and Stan Redding

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Nathalie Baye, Amy Adams, James Brolin, Brian Howe, Frank John Hughes, Steve Eastin, Chris Ellis

Year: 2002

Runtime: 141 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

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