Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can (12A)

Some films are so off-the-wall they just have to be true.

Such is the situation with Catch Me If You Can, the latest star-studded offering from Steven Spielberg in which Leonardo DiCaprio plays serial conman Frank Abagnale Jnr – a young yet thoroughly convincing trickster who posed as a co-pilot, lawyer and doctor over more than five years and, during that time, took in thousands of people with his confidence and charm.

Of course no-one like Frank gets life all his own way, and soon the FBI is on the teenager’s trail in the form of tenacious agent Carl Hanratty. After a global paper chase Frank is apprehended in France, but not before he’s made millions of dollars merely by having enough front to persuade people that he is who he claims to be.

A comic escapade, Catch Me If You Can is a romanticised version of a true-life crime story in which the central hero is not the humourless FBI man but the smiling fraudster whose manner wears down even the most suspicious people.

In essence DiCaprio is playing an enigma – a man so deeply hidden within a range of ever more outlandish false identities that he no longer knows who the real Frank is. Hanratty, on the other hand, comes across as part bumbling comedy cop, part hard-nosed detective. Perhaps the characterisation is down to Hanks, and maybe Spielberg has had a hand in his construction, but certainly our first glimpses of Hanratty hint at a man who has never had to rise to much of a challenge and is always one step behind his man. In that respect there is more than a little disbelief to be swallowed.

More than anything Catch Me If You Can is about gullibility, and how ordinary folk – principally Americans during the 1960s – can be taken in hook, line and sinker by someone they are prepared to believe in.

In Frank’s case confidence, luck and sheer audacity are what carry him through – as well as a pair of baby blues that would make Paul Newman nervous.

DiCaprio plays Frank as a pleasant shyster. His victims are big business and, in Spielberg’s hands at least, Frank seems to try not to hurt the little man. Certainly he feels deeply for his father (Christopher Walken), a walking disaster area as a businessman but also a chancer. He’s the blueprint for what Frank eventually becomes.

Hanks emerges not as an equal in the film but as support to DiCaprio’s central performance – a shame since Hanks, if younger, could have brought great depth to DiCaprio’s role had the parts been reversed.

Catch Me If You Can is a minor addition to the Spielberg canon – a lightweight tale that rapidly fades when placed alongside meaty fare such as Jaws, Empire of the Sun or Schindler’s List. Hanks never really gives both barrels, and DiCaprio adds little to the cypher that is Frank Abagnale. As for Spielberg, he seems to be saving his energies for bigger things. I wonder if Indiana Jones IV is on the horizon…?

Star rating; ***

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