Catch Me If You Can (2002)

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Watching a movie a second time, especially a few month’s after the fact, is often an interesting experience. Frequently, you find yourself scratching your head and saying, “Was that the same movie?”

That’s how it was for me watching Catch Me If You Can the second time, months after first seeing it.

On first viewing, I was disappointed. While I didn’t dislike it, I found it wasn’t anywhere close to what I had been expecting. Spoken of as a “fun” and “entertaining” movie, I found it rather somber and dark.

The fun I had expected came across as muted. I hadn’t expected the melancholy background story of the father and son that informs the main character’s actions (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Seeing the film this second time, I didn’t find that background story anywhere close to being the oppressive element I had taken it as before. The movie came across as quick, bright and … yes, fun.

Based on a true story, the movie is about a very young man (late teens) who loves and idolizes his father (Christopher Walken).

Frank Abagnale (Christopher Walken) and Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio).

But as the young man is “coming into his own” as a man so is the father drifting away from his status. The one’s star is rising, the other’s is falling, so to speak.

Eager to be successful for his father’s approval, and in a way he has interpreted from what he has heard and seen from his father, the young Frank Abagnale becomes an accomplished con man — a fraud artist. He discovers his ability to talk to and charm people, similar to the talents his father has used (and which the son has witnessed over the years).

Soon the F.B.I. is after young Abagnale and the story implied by the film’s title, Catch Me If You Can, is on. The quest to catch the young fraud artist is led by the agent Carl Hanratty played by Tom Hanks, a very serious, humorless and determined man, at least when we first meet him.

Tom Hanks and Leonardo Di Caprio.

The “fun” aspect of the movie is in the chase and the many cons young Abagnale pulls in evading capture. He and the FBI agent, despite the oppositional nature of their positions, develop a bond, almost a father-son relationship as counterpoint to the one Abagnale has with his real father.

So why the two very different responses to seeing the film? I think there are two reasons and they’re somewhat related.

To begin with, when the film came out it was marketed, and spoken of in reviews, as a “fun” movie. It was light; it was entertaining. (A quote from the Associated Press on the DVD back cover reads, “…the most flat-out fun movie of the year.”)

But while the film is fun and fast and colourful, it also begins with and carries as a note throughout, Frank Abagnale’s father. This part of the film, essential to the characterization of the son, is frankly sad. It’s about a man getting older and slowly losing his position in the world. The son sees this, and it is what makes him almost desperate to succeed and restore his family’s life.

This element mutes the fun aspect of the film. It conditions all the hi-jinks and adds a sobering element to everything.

When the film first came out, and when I first saw it, this aspect took me by surprise because it was unexpected. It became the element that most stood out and directed my response.

Leonardo Di Caprio as Frank Abagnale Jr.

On seeing the movie the second time, while I knew what the film was about, there was some distance from the hype. I was also aware of this other element, the father’s story. In an odd sense, I was able to view the film more objectively having already seen it. The expectations I had when I first saw it weren’t present the second time.

Catch Me If You Can is a good, fun movie but it’s not the same kind of light entertainment as a movie like, for example, Ocean’s Eleven. Spielberg includes a realistic human element to his story through the character of the father and the son’s memories of his family from early childhood.

Where an Ocean’s Eleven is all romantic fantasy, Catch Me If You Can is a fun movie rooted in and informed by reality and because of this, while thoroughly entertaining, it has a melancholy tone running through it.

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