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The true story of Frank W. Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio) who forged cheques across America for millions, posed as a doctor, lawyer and airline pilot and fell in love, all before he was 21. FBI Special Agent Frank Hanratty (Tom Hanks) tracked him across the states, but Frankís audacious style saved him several times. A charming conman, Frankís father (Christopher Walken) was his role model, even though his parents split up. When finally Agent Hanratty caught up with Frank, it was an unusual confrontation.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Itís an irresistible true story, but itís also a dangerous temptation. Frank Abagnale is a case of stranger than fiction, so much so that any fictionalising only waters down his story. The English call it gilding the lily. ĎInspiredí by what he did as a young man, the filmmakers opted to make Franksí story a genre film, and the genre they chose was comedy. To some extent, their instincts were right: we love to root for and smile along with the charming conman on the wrong side of the law, especially when heís cheating banks. We did it with The Bank, Australiaís bank bashing movie of recent years. And curiously enough Ė this is quite spooky Ė John Williamsí score for Catch Me If You Can is instantly reminiscent of Alan Johnís score for The Bank. I shuffle you not.†

But back to the chase (Manhattan): to elicit our compassion and support, Leonardo DiCaprio is perfect as the late teens youngster who goes on a cheque forging rampage across America that nets him millions. Yes, millions. But thatís not all. He masquerades as a co-pilot, a lawyer, a doctor (in Emergency) and thatís when he falls in love with a gauche trainee nurse. The decision to go with comedy shuts out some of the more interesting explorations of the character, robs the film of its promised tension (with a title like that) and reduces the man to a freak, without going all out with a freak show. Spielberg should have taken a cue from the great chefs: if your ingredients are of the highest quality, you donít have to do much except arrange them nicely and serve them up with a flourish. And you certainly donít drown them is oyster sauce.†

Writer Nathanson is quoted saying Ēitís a cat and mouse thriller, but at the same time itís a coming of age story, and then very much a family drama.Ē You can see the problem: too much pigeon-holeing into genres and styles, instead of paying attention to the character and the story. Never mind what you call it. Let comedy and drama and romance and whatever else just bubble along like Frankís life did. Donít steer it! Donít label it! Just tell the story Ė and in this case, Frankís own narration would have been a valid tool, filling in the blanks and letting us get inside him, more than the script did. To be frank (as it were), the film is intermittently engaging and fun, sometimes moving in a laboured sort of way, yet it never ignites as it should, despite the towering talents amassed. Could it be they all tried too hard?

A full disc of extra features fills in the background to the filmís genesis and origins, stuff thatís now pretty common knowledge about the real Abagnale. The opening feature Behind the Camera, 17 mins) has the opening celebration drinks on the first day of shoot hosted by Spielberg, with ĎLeoí as guest of honour. Spielberg reveals the assembled team worked on all seven of his previous films. The rest of the information is kinda predictable but feeds the curious fan.

Same goes for the set of casting interviews: nothing too revolutionary but up close and personal with the cast and Spielberg.

The Abagnale piece is fun, talking about the coolest con guys in history. It tries to show him in the best possible light (Ďa nice guy thief who didnít rob the poor or weak or oldí etc). Presumably to cater for people with short attention spans, this profile is split into four 5-minute pieces.

The FBI perspective is also part of the comprehensive Electronic Press Kit, as distinct from a special for the DVD. That is, it has overlay clips from the film, which on the DVD is rather superfluous. But at least it shows how to kick in a doorÖ.

In Closing gives Abagnale the last word, summarises the compression of five years of his life into a two hour movie. Leo and Tom also gush, and overall, itís self congratulatory about the movie, but whaddaya expect?

And in closing, you should be warned that if you watch all the extras in one sitting, you may start getting fed up with the central musical motif which runs under nearly all the footage.†

Speaking of the score, John Williams shows his elder statesman stature and opens by pointing out that this is the 20th film heís worked on with Spielberg. Thatís quite a track record, and Williams is one of the true greats of music Ė not just movies. In fact, itís only about 5 minutes, but this is my favourite feature on this disc, highlighting both the creative and personal aspects of scoring the film. The way Williams talks about the score is the most illuminating section in the entire behind the scenes features.

Published August 21, 2003

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CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Nathalie Baye, Jennifer Garner, Amy Adams, Martin Sheen, Frank John Hughes, Brian Howe

DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg

SCRIPT: Jeff Nathanson (Frank Abagnale Jr. and Stan Redding - book)

RUNNING TIME: 140 minutes

PRESENTATION: 16:9; 2 disc set;

SPECIAL FEATURES: Behind the Camera featurette; Cast Me If You Can Ė the casting of the film (interviews with Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Nathalie Baye, Martin Sheen, Amy Adams, Jennifer Gerner); Frank Abagnale Ė between reality and fiction; scoring the film; the FBI perspective; Catch Me If You Can:In closing; Subtitles: English, German, Dutch, Hungarian, Polish


DVD RELEASE: (rental) June 18, 2003; (retail) August 20, 2003

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