The latest effort from Steven Spielberg is yet another "based on a true story" story, but is a refreshingly light-hearted departure from Spielberg's recent serious efforts (Schindler's List or Saving Private Ryan). Frank William Abagnale, Jr. was, in the late 1960's, considered to be an expert check forger and impersonator. It took the FBI several years to track him down during which time he stole millions of dollars and successfully worked as a commercial airline pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer. The twist to the criminal tale is the fact that Abagnale was all of 16 years old when he began his illicit activities.
Frank Abagnale, Sr. (Christopher Walken) is a perennial loser. Although he's apparently well-liked, he's also gotten himself in some trouble with the Internal Revenue Service. Try as he might, he simply cannot keep his business afloat. He is forced to move his family from their comfortable house into a walk-up apartment, and he eventually loses his wife. Frank, Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) does his best, but finally runs away from home when he is confronted with more than he can handle in the wake of his parents' pending divorce. On the run and desperate for money, he notices a uniformed pilot, surrounded by a gaggle of pretty stewardesses, and respectfully admired by everyone he passes. On the spot, Frank decides he'll be a pilot with no training but a quick wit and a good deal of nerve.
As checks start to bounce and forgeries are reported, the FBI's Bank Fraud Unit is called in. A small team led by Agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) tracks Abagnale across the country. Hanratty is sure he'll eventually get his man; Abagnale is tired of running, but equally determined that he won't get caught. Though the two men are obviously directly opposing each other, they also develop a certain amount of respect for each other as the chase becomes more intense.
Catch Me If You Can is ably directed by Spielberg. You won't see any heavy-handedness here, and the subtlety is perfect for both the time period and a story that is simultaneously a true crime drama and the entertaining story of a kid who can fool seasoned FBI agents. The costuming is terrific as are the sets, and if a few scenes are almost cartoon-like we can forgive them because they very nearly fit in seamlessly with the lifestyle of the time period. Tom Hanks is, as we've come to expect: very good. Leonardo DiCaprio also gives a strong performance. The best acting, though, comes from the supporting cast: You'll laugh and cry for Christopher Walken who brings to life a man who, despite all of life's obstacles, maintains both his dignity and his pie-in-the-sky dreams.
FAMILY SUITABILITY: Catch Me If You Can is rated PG-13. There's no nudity or real violence, and not a lot of rough language. But the movie is, at times, quite intense, and the storyline isn't always easy to follow as we hop from time period to time period. Save this flick for smarter kids, age 12 and up.
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