Sometimes you don’t need elaborate effects or an excellent cast to make a great movie. There are times where you merely need a well-rounded story.
At its most basic level, cinema is a form of storytelling done through a visual medium. Most of the best movies are the ones that tell the best stories. Ones that are timeless, nuanced and, for lack of a better term, human. While there are many other ways a film can be impressive, such as acting, cinematography, score, editing, etc., those elements don’t add much to much if the story is not there to back it up.
One such example is Steven Spielberg’s 2002 “Catch Me If You Can,” which is a basic, bare-bones depiction of the life of Frank Abagnale, a world famous con-artist. But what lifts this film up and breaths life into it is the story and its portrayal of quick-witted and fun-loving Frank against the cold and calculating FBI agent hunting him down.
Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) is just a kid who is tired of seeing his father (Christopher Walken) being tormented by the government and his own wife. So he sets out to find a way to give his father the life that he deserves, even if it means cheating the system and creating fake checks. Frank takes on many professions, including a Pan-Am co-pilot, a doctor, a lawyer, and it able to get away with over $4 million due to bank fraud.
This catches the attention of FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks), who makes it his personal mission to seek out Frank Abagnale. But what Frank finds out is that he isn’t running because of the money, but because he loves being hunted down and getting away. He won’t stop because he knows that he is better than Carl Hanratty and he wants to prove it.
This is what I mean by the story being so effective. The premise is simple and captivating, yet layered to the point that makes it that much more intriguing. Both Frank and Carl have many reasons for what they do, from pride to greed, to simple cockiness and even revenge. These are Shakespearian-esque characters set during the 1960s.
Frank takes from his father, who is a charmer and quick thinker, but is often punished for his actions. Mostly by the government. But unlike his father, Frank isn’t willing to take that without a fight. He does not want the same life as his father, but a better one, free of loss, fear and a constant need to look out for the government.
Yet once he begins to run, he finds out that the newspapers are eating him up, calling him the “James Bond of the skies.” This leads him to buy three suits which are identical to Sean Connery’s suit from “Goldfinger” and buy the same car that he drives. His ego becomes so big that he wants the whole world to see it.
Carl, on the other hand, has been working a desk job most of his life. He has no sense of humor, with his one joke actually being an insult. At first, he does this because it is his job. Yet once Frank outsmarts him and gets away, he begins to take this way more personal and seriously, even going as far hunt him all the way to France.
In a way though, Carl is living a better life than Frank. Carl has a place to call home and has a family. He has people who he can depend on, while Frank’s life is full of lies and hopping around the world. Carl takes this opportunity to rub it in Frank’s face a couple times as he calls Carl on Christmas, because he has no one else to talk to.
The chemistry and relationship between Carl and Frank becomes an odd one, where you can tell that they respect and care for one another, yet despise their guts. Carl grows sympathetic to Frank, due to him being just a kid and far away from home, but hates that a child outsmarted him so many times. Frank sees Carl as his only real connection to the world, one that is always there and true, instead of another lie.
This is made even better by the actors playing these roles. Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks work perfectly off of one another and offer up some great scenes as the young DiCaprio tries to outsmart the experienced Hanks.
Overall, “Catch Me If You Can” is an excellent example of how great writing and storytelling can still be the driving force behind a movie. Not once does the film get bogged down in any unnecessary scenes and every line of dialogue exists for a reason. Topped off by the dueling performances of Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio and you get a wonderful flick about a man living a world full of lies being chased the cold and unforgiving arm of the government.
Final Grade: B+