"Catch Me If You Can" is an attempt for director Steven Spielberg to return to lighter fare after the darker sci-fi/noir efforts "A.I." and "Minority Report". As basic entertainment, "Catch" is certainly worth viewing, fun and both nicely crafted and acted. It is, however, a film that suffers from a few noteworthy issues which I will discuss.
The film is "inspired by" the true story of Frank Abagnale, Jr. (Leonardo Dicaprio, who is quite convincing), a 16-year-old who, as the film opens, finds himself witnessing the gradual breaking apart of the marriage of his parents (Christopher Walken, Nathalie Baye). Its the 60's and Frank, Jr. is not about to let his parents slip apart. After an early test impersonating a substitute teacher for a week, Frank runs away from home and tries to find his footing in the city.
Although nobody wants to cash a check from a kid, Frank stumbles onto an idea one day - how about being a pilot? He learns the dialogue, learns the details, gets himself a uniform and starts putting together fake paychecks from the company, which he cashes whenever he needs more money. Soon enough, he's gotten himself millions and the attention of the government, most notably agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks), who senses a potential promotion if he can catch the criminal. Unfortunately for Hanratty, things aren't always that easy.
The two meet up fairly quickly, leading Hanratty to realize that he's not chasing an adult forger, but an incredibly smart teenager. Much of the movie is essentially just that: the chase between the two, as the agent often finds himself empty-handed, arriving just after Frank has departed, choosing to become something or someone (a doctor, a lawyer) else.
This is certainly fine entertainment, as I mentioned before, and the faults that I do find in the film don't sink it entirely. There's a lot of hints of the fact that Frank is doing all of this in an attempt to reunite his parents, which is never explored in very much detail after being brought up. There's also little background to Hanratty; although Hanks plays the character as expertly as one might expect, there's just not a whole lot of character there to work with. We also only see Frank beginning to put together his check-fraud plans, but never really see that much of him learning how to do it or how exactly to improve upon what he was doing. Rounding out concerns is the film's length - as with all of Spielberg's recent fare, the film's running time have used some shortening - nearly two and 1/2 hours for this not particularly substancial tale leads to some sections in the second half that started to feel long and the chase could have been a bit more tense.
As I noted before, I liked the performances and really, they were what I felt carried the picture. Dicaprio is superb as Frank, convincing as a teenager and portraying the hurt and confident sides of the character skillfully. Hanks is fine, as well, although Christopher Walken's role as Frank's dad proves to be more entertaining. Martin Sheen also offers a decent performance in a minor role. As per usual, Spielberg's picture is technically marvelous. The period is recreated wonderfully, while Janusz Kaminski's rather soft photography still manages to provide interesting compositions and nice style.
The chase between the two leads is generally well-played if not too developed. Still, I appreciate the fact that, while the audience is supposed to cheer Frank on, Hanks' Hanratty isn't made to look like an idiot, either - while Frank outsmarts his persuer often, there's a determination to Hanratty that grounds the whole chase nicely and adds to the feeling of potential danger. Overall, I certainly enjoyed "Catch Me If You Can" and wouldn't mind if the director went towards this lighter direction on occasion, but I didn't quite love it.