Steven Spielberg manages to change up his filmography with the incredibly true story of Frank W. Abagnale, Jr. in Catch Me If You Can.
Spielberg may be reuniting with Tom Hanks but the film marks his first collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio. Moreover, Frank W. Abagnale, Jr.’s story is one that was just ripe for filmmaking. It was in development hell since 1980 but never really made any progress until Spielberg decided to take it on.
Frank W. Abagnale, Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) was an 18-year-old con artist. This is a man that was somehow able to pass himself as a pilot, lawyer, and a doctor. All three of which came before he turned 21 years old. When Frank’s dad, Frank, Sr. (Christopher Walken), gets into trouble with the IRS and downsizes their home, Frank Jr. enrolls in public school before later running away from home. It’s not long before he pretends to be a PanAm pilot and cashes millions of dollars in fake checks. It’s enough to get the attention of FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks). And soon, the cat-and-mouse game begins. When the duo first encounter each other, Frank lies about being a Secret Service agent, Barry Allen, investigating the case. Hello, Flash!
When Frank starts portraying himself as a doctor, he falls in love with a young nurse, Brenda Strong (Amy Adams). The two fall in love to the point of a marriage proposal. At which point, Frank uses Brenda’s dad, Roger (Martin Sheen), so that he could take the Louisiana state bar exam. Carl is still on the trails but Frank manages to escape once again. Frank believed Brenda betrayed him so he leaves for France to meet up with his mother (Nathalie Baye). This is the point in which Carl finally catches him. Now, it could have been a sad ending for Frank but after helping Carl on a case from prison, Carl pulls some strings and Frank starts working for the FBI.
There’s also a recurring Spielberg theme in Catch Me If You Can. Frank Jr. comes from a broken home. Similarly, Carl is also divorced from his wife and their daughter lives with her in Chicago. Knowing Spielberg’s work and background, it’s no wonder that he was drawn to direct the film.
The film marked the 20th collaboration between director Steven Spielberg and composer John Williams. As a film, it’s really unlike anything Spielberg has done in his filmography up until this point. Because of this, Williams changes it up. It’s definitely the jazziest score that Williams gives a Spielberg film. Given the period piece, you can’t go wrong with playing up the 60s vibe either. Not surprisingly, the score was earned the film one of its two Oscar nominations. The other nomination belonging to Christopher Walken for Best Supporting Actor–a deserving nomination nonetheless.
It’s the relationships that also help make these films what they are. Up through this film, Michael Kahn edited all but three films for Spielberg. It’s also marked the seventh collaboration with cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. Kaminski is one of the greatest cinematographers in recent history and this man knows what he’s doing when it comes to lighting and camera placement. There’s a lot of location work so everybody had to be on top of their game with the fast pace.
When producer Walter Parkes sent the script to Hanks, he thought Hanks would maybe make a cameo as Frank Sr. Instead, he plays the FBI agent! Hanks is basically playing an antagonist who leans towards that of a protagonist. It’s a good role for Hanks, who reunited with Spielberg again.
Jennifer Garner’s small role as a call girl, Cheryl Ann, doesn’t happen without Spielberg watching Alias. The moment happened in real life. However, it almost didn’t even make it into the film!
Catch Me If You Can, aided by strong performances, makes for an entertaining addition into the Steven Spielberg filmography.
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
SCREENWRITER: Jeff Nathanson
CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Nathalie Baye