Catch Me If You Can ★★★★½

I first saw Catch Me If You Can during its theatrical run in early 2003. I had some free time one day, either before, between or after classes and decided on a whim to swing by Tinseltown. I'm rather annoyed that I can't actually identify when I saw it because it's one of the very few ticket stubs from my modern era (i.e., 1995 onward) I don't have and did not apparently record. I can vividly recall, though, how much I enjoyed watching it.

There's a scene about halfway into the movie where Frank (DiCaprio) goes by himself to see Goldfinger. It was a bit of a meta moment for me to be by myself in a theater watching him by myself in a theater, both of us really enjoying what we were watching. I also enjoyed seeing those brief clips from Goldfinger; it was (technically) the first time I ever got to see Sean Connery as 007 on the big screen.

In a lot of ways, Catch Me If You Can doesn't feel like a Steven Spielberg film. It opens with an actual credits sequence, for one thing, something that's been pretty uncommon in his films. It's such a delightful sequence, though, that I'm glad he elected to use it. I dig the cartoon silhouettes and John Williams's breezy score. Which reminds me: Whenever talk turns to Williams, I generally agree that his 21st Century output hasn't been as memorable as his work from the late 70s to the turn of the century but I really ought to make a point to remember just how great this score is.

Truthfully, I wasn't big on DiCaprio in his early career. He was a movie star who appealed to the same young women who snubbed me. It was in Catch Me If You Can and Gangs of New York that he won me over and convinced me he was an actor. I saw range and depth from him in those two movies that I didn't really feel he'd been challenged to show up to that point. His performance in Gangs of New York was a lot meatier than his portrayal here of con artist Frank Abagnale, Jr., but there are a lot of little things he does in this film that work.

I think chiefly what I like about Catch Me If You Can is that we get a sense of Abagnale's motivations. He's a naive young man who just wants things to be like they were - or at least, how he perceived them. His insistence on getting his parents back together, for instance, is something recognizable to most of us in one way or another. I personally was glad my parents divorced when they did; I was about 5 at the time. It seems that's the best age to handle such matters, because I've seen a lot of people older than I was who react more like Frank did.

It's really in the relationship between Frank and his dad that Catch Me If You Can reveals its Spielbergian nature. Frank, Sr. (Christopher Walken) is never explicitly blamed by the film for Frank, Jr.'s decision making but we definitely get the sense that Spielberg wants us to see that the father - interpreted by his loving son as eccentricity and coolness - was the beneficiary of some misplaced devotion. Whether the real Frank, Sr. was to his son as the film portrays, I have no way of knowing; but Spielberg clearly wants us to see Movie Frank, Sr. in that light.

Given that the film was adapted from Frank, Jr.'s memoir and that he was a consultant on the film, it seems reasonable to guess that the portrayals here are accurate at least in spirit if not exacting detail. I've not read the book, though I keep meaning to get to it at some point.

One thing I think that I like that didn't cross my mind until this viewing was that Spielberg doesn't force us into fearing an ominous Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ending for Frank, Jr. From the very beginning of the film, we know he's okay. Others may have presented the film differently, hedging their bet that most moviegoers would be unfamiliar with Abagnale's story and that they could toy with us. Spielberg refrained from that, never making us fear that it will devolve into tragedy. It's interesting that the narrative is so engaging despite taking off the table from the very first scene a bloody ending.

Catch Me If You Can Re-Ranked on My Flickchart (#106/1515)

Catch Me If You Can > Ghosts of Girlfriends Past --> #106
I may go easy on Ghosts of Girlfriends Past owing to my love of Dickens and soft spot for Jennifer Garner, but Catch Me If You Can is sheer, wall-to-wall fun.

Catch Me If You Can > The Music Man (1962) --> #106
Con man showdown! The Music Man is rare in that I actually enjoy its songs (I generally dislike musicals), but Catch Me If You Can has Tom Hanks telling the best "knock, knock" joke ever.

Catch Me If You Can < The Odd Couple --> #191
Though Catch Me If You Can is more entertaining, I identify with The Odd Couple in a rather personal way. I could go either way on this depending on my mood, I think, but for now Felix & Oscar > Frank & Carl.

Catch Me If You Can > Watchmen --> #191
I'm glad I saw Zack Snyder's director's cut of Watchmen, which was more satisfying than the theatrical cut...but not as satisfying as Catch Me If You Can.

Catch Me If You Can < Ghostbusters --> #238
Catch Me If You Can is more polished, but Ghostbusters is...well, it's Ghostbusters. I could go either way on this at any given time. This time, it's Ghostbusters.

Catch Me If You Can > Ocean's 11 (1960) --> #238
Con men showdown! The original Ocean's 11 has a better ending than its remake or its competition here, but Catch Me If You Can is just a bit slicker and more fun.

Catch Me If You Can > Bridesmaids --> #238
I laughed throughout Bridesmaids, and even laughed some when I re-watched it at home, which is rare for me; but even that much laughter wasn't quite as entertaining as Catch Me If You Can.

Catch Me If You Can > Cruel Intentions --> #238
There's a perverse pleasure to take from Cruel Intentions, but it isn't as enjoyable as the outright fun of Catch Me If You Can.

Catch Me If You Can > The Ramen Girl --> #238
I wish more people would see The Ramen Girl; Brittany Murphy was terrific in it. Catch Me If You Can doesn't have an extraneous romance shoehorned into its final act, though, and it's more fun overall.

Catch Me If You Can > The Perks of Being a Wallflower --> #238
I love the atmosphere and performances in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but there's a bit too much privilege there. I favor the vicarious thrill of Catch Me If You Can here.

Catch Me If You Can < Ghostbusters --> #238
Okay, still picking Ghostbusters. (For now!)

Catch Me If You Can was re-ranked on my Flickchart to #238/1515