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"Catch Me If You Can"

IF IT weren't a true story, you'd think the screenplay is simply preposterous. Because the protagonist in the film is in his teens, brilliant and motivated no doubt, does con jobs that would put veterans to shame. And he is actually able to outsmart, on most occasions, a hard-nosed, equally bright FBI agent, hot on his trail.

Seems unbelievable, if it was just a story. But then DreamWorks/ Steven Spielberg film, "Catch Me If You Can", is based on a true story of Frank Abagnale, who lives even today as the films tells us, and his life as a con-artist ``when he was just 17 ''.

As a film it's beautifully crafted, as most of Spielberg-directed ventures are. And if they contain elements of fantasy or even the nostalgic longing for the age of innocence or even the simple love-transcends-all, truth-shall-prevail sort of reasoning, the films are largely entertaining and unforgettable.

Here the film is set in the 1960s and there is that longing for the age of the past that shows up in the way the scenes have been built up — including the introductory credits done in a very arresting, clever `Pink Panther' manner. It simply has the look of a Spielberg fantasy despite its fact-based story and some really down to earth performances. Rooms and objects in the film glow with that subliminal message that something amazing is about to happen.

But then it is an amazing story too — a kind of truth-is-stranger-than-fiction plot that is probably 90 per cent faithful to the autobiography it is based on.

Frank Abagnale Jr. is a genius — he cons people and successfully impersonates an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer. Not just that, he also encashes many fraudulent cheques worth million dollars, very easily. And all this he does with such precision and talent that it amazes and perplexes the adult world especially that of Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks), who finally has reluctant admiration for him. And Frank does all this as a teenager.

The movie makes an attempt to explain Frank's behaviour through some adolescent trauma. He is a happy boy living with loving parents, father Frank Sr. (Christopher Walken) and his French mother, Paula. Until of course his mother cheats on her husband and walks out of the marriage leaving Frank Jr. devastated and traumatised enough to run away. Thereby beginning his life on his own without any means of survival and without any qualifications to earn a decent living. But once he discovers how much he can do and get away with, there is a certain heady exhilaration and he learns that he cannot give it up so easily.

But then as Carl tells him, ``there is only one way this will end'', the chase is on to arrest him and throw him behind bars. As Carl tracks him down, the director makes this cat-and-mouse game rather interesting with Frank outwitting him many times. There are some little moments that are amazing the way they come across.

Hank's performance as the agent with little humour is brilliant, especially in the scene towards the end when he anxiously waits for Frank to make an appearance. And there are several such moments. Finally, with Hanratty's help Frank finds redemption and friendship but only after some very rough times.

Leonardo Dicaprio is perfect as Frank, with his beguiling face and blue eyes, while for Tom Hanks, after "Road To Perdition", this is a role that is exciting and arresting. With his clipped accent, comical reserve, and some dowdy clothes, Tom makes the character largely believable and admirable. Walken who plays Frank Sr. is impressive too. To capture the feel of that time, Spielberg has assembled a creative team that includes long-time director of photography, Janusz Kaminski (whose lighting creates a world that is slightly idealistic and at the same time with an underlying wry sense of humour) and composer, John Williams, whose background score is tremendously effective. Production designer, Jeannine Oppelwall and costume designer, Mary Zophres, provide the right amount of panache to make you believe that you are truly in the 1960s.

CHITRA MAHESH

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