Catch Me If You Can

Jan 1, 2003 at 12:00 am

It’s no secret that Leonardo DiCaprio is a talented actor, and in Catch Me If You Can he plays an actor so good that it takes people a while to cotton to the fact that he’s not for real. DiCaprio’s unwavering suavity carries this movie about a boy so upset by the disintegrating relationship of the most important adults in his life that he runs away and ends up doing a much better job at pretending to be a grown-up than they ever did as real ones.

Free of the unfortunate scraggle that dogged him in Gangs of New York, DiCaprio plays Frank Abagnale, a clever teen who discovers his flair for impersonation when he convinces his French class at a new school that he’s their substitute teacher. The charade lasts a week and gives voice to the idea in the back of Frank’s mind that if he could keep up the act for a week, what’s to stop him from doing it for a month, or a year? When his parents tell him they’re getting a divorce, Frank leaves home and begins supporting his life on the run by forging checks, then moves smoothly into posing as an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer. (He also eventually becomes a fiance, which may or may not be genuine.)

Every good boy on the lam needs a nemesis, and Tom Hanks ably fills that role as Carl Hanratty, an FBI agent who works bank fraud, a Bureau division that’s about as glamorous and thrilling as it sounds. Hanratty and Frank have a typical entertaining-con-man-and-his-law-abiding-adversary relationship. Their grudging respect for each other includes a taunting, devil-may-care attitude on the part of scheming Frank, and a dubious exasperation demonstrated by Hanks’ ample paunch and his thick accent ripped from the larynx of Robert De Niro in another DiCaprio vehicle, This Boy’s Life.

In that film, DiCaprio was a kid, too smart for his own good, who tried to beat the suffocating system of his Pacific Northwest town and a nasty stepfather. In Catch Me If You Can, that same boy has a go at the world, and this time has the experience to win from the beginning.

Erin Podolsky writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].