U.S. Release Date: December 25, 2002
Distributor: DreamWorks
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Jeff Nathanson
Producer: Steven Spielberg
Composer: John Williams
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Amy Adams, James Brolin, Jennifer Garner, Elizabeth Banks
Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (some sexual content and brief language)

Catching a Great Movie Ride
by C.A. Wolski

In the 1960s Frank Abagnale, Jr., had it all—money, cars, girls, great jobs as a pilot, a doctor and a lawyer. The only problem was that Frank Abagnale, Jr. was a complete fraud, bilking Pan Am Airlines and the United States government among others out of millions of dollars by forging checks—a feat the con man or "paperhanger" achieved before his 20th birthday.

Steven Spielberg's Christmas present to moviegoers Catch Me If You Can chronicles the brilliant and misguided Abagnale throughout his career as a brazen con man in a bright, breezy movie that is not only entertaining, but has a message about the need for a life that is personally fulfilling—the motivation and fuel for Abagnale's joyously amoral life of crime.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays the young con man and for once his youthful good looks and boyish charms works for and not against him. His Abagnale is both a confident trickster and a good kid who has been cast adrift by his self-absorbed parents. There is no sniveling or whining in DiCaprio's performance. When things go wrong—and they often do—you can almost see his mind at work as he coolly formulates a new plan to get him out of whatever jam he finds himself in.

However, what makes the movie work isn't DiCaprio's terrific performance, the stylish set design and cinematography or the ingenious cons. It is Tom Hanks' performance as the ultra-serious, doggedly determined FBI agent Handratty. While Abagnale is boyish and exuberant, fascinated with the trappings of fulfillment like cars, clothes and girls, Handratty's determination in catching the teenaged criminal brings him the spiritual fulfillment that eludes Abagnale throughout most of the picture. That Hanks is the butt of several comic scenes does not undercut his character. In fact, it just makes him more determined to catch Abagnale. And while Abagnale dotes on his own father Frank, Sr., a stunning performance by Christopher Walken, Handratty becomes the father Frank, Jr., always wanted. He is the only one who can not only catch him, but also give him the purpose he so longs for.

With all that the movie has going for it, there are a couple of minor problems. It opens with a clip from Abagnale's appearance on To Tell the Truth, but that's dropped. The flashback structure takes some of the dramatic tension off—you know from the opening scenes Abagnale gets caught by Handratty—but those are minor annoyances. The supporting cast are all memorable, including a brief appearance by Jennifer Garner (TV's Alias). The sole exception is the horribly miscast Martin Sheen as the father of Abagnale's fiancé.

Catch Me If You Can is a confection, but it is probably also one of the best pictures of the year. And it is a relief not only because of the generally lackluster offerings of 2002, but because it was made by Steven Spielberg, who while one of the best directors alive is also unfortunately one of the most self-indulgent. He should stick to this sort of material, drop his recent penchant for pomposity and preaching and get back to telling fun, rip-roaring stories. Because at root, that's what Catch Me If You Can is.

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