Thursday, 12 March 2009

Movie Review - Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can is the story of a conman who passed himself off as an airline pilot and paediatric doctor among other things, and a dogged FBI check fraud officer. Starring Leonardo Di Caprio in the role of the conman (Frank) and Tom Hanks as the FBI agent (Carl), it was a film that promised much. I never got round to watching it in the cinema as I was just too busy, and wasn’t entirely convinced that it would be a good film.

So the question is, am I convinced now?

The music (by John Williams, who is normally excellent) was incredibly annoying, as was the whole drawn-out intro sequence (it was almost as bad as a Bond movie…), which wasn’t a good start. But bad first impressions don’t always last…

Plot

Frank is a conman trying not to get caught, and Carl is and FBI agent determined to catch him. Whatever else may happen in the film, it really doesn’t stray very far from this basic plot. As such, the plot is interesting but seemed only partially developed. Based on a true story (with the person whose life it was based around being a consultant for the film!), it does to some extent show why Frank entered this lifestyle because of his rather eccentric father, how family disputes played a part in his development, and how he became what he was. On the other hand, some scenes seemed to be there for show rather than really adding to the plot, in a “let’s make it seem like it’s a meaningful film too” kind of way. And while some of the cons are very clever and convincing, others have more of a “Flash Gordon” feel to them (what I mean by that is, the film brings you to what seems like a point of no return only for the day to be saved miraculously or improbably). I suppose that’s more or less obligatory in a film that wants to be suspenseful, but it felt wrong in this – like I as the viewer was the one really being conned here. On the other hand, the majority of the plot was good, and there it was certainly a film where you had to keep watching to find out what happened next.

In fact, this would easily have been a five-star film if the screenplay had been consistently as good as it’s best parts. There were some very silly moments that rather spoiled things and suspended your ability to suspend your belief. One instance of this is that Frank’s mother, on being asked by Carl if she had a picture of him, replied, “yes, I have a picture of him in his high school yearbook”. I mean, she wasn’t supposed to be the best mother in the world, but SURELY she’d have some photos of her son? And when money blows out underneath a door to fly past Carl… after it had got out of the room with the window opening, just what was supposed to be pushing the note up in the air and past Carl?

It’s a real shame that silly things like this crept in because this is basically a good thing. The story involves you throughout, and rather cleverly has you guessing which of the lead characters you’re more sorry for – and fortunately Frank (being as he is a reformed criminal, but through most of the film simply a criminal) isn’t over-sentimentalised. You have a sneaking sympathy for him without actually going so far as to root for him to escape. The deductive work leading up to his capture is sometimes brilliantly clever, sometimes blandly circumstantial. Which would sum up the entire film really – average due to continually going from the sublime to the ridiculous – if it were not for the action that happens after the captured Frank is put on a plane to be deported back to the United States to serve out his prison sentence.

At that point, the film remains consistently excellent – from a highly creative escape attempt from the plane, to a poignant moment when he tries to find his mother’s house, to his reform and possible un-reform. This is so good it pushes the whole rating up to 4 stars – if it had been like the rest of the film it would be remained a mundane 3 stars.

Cast

Both Hanks and Di Caprio have shown themselves to be consistently excellent actors, and they do their best with a script somewhat variable in quality. They both make you care about their characters, which I guess is the most important thing any actor can ever do. Frank’s eccentric father is played well by Christopher Walken, who seems to have played an eccentric father in just about every film I’ve ever seen him in… The supporting cast do fine, and again are more hampered by the script than their own ability wherever they do fall a bit flat. There is a love interest in the film, but the reasons for this are not really defined and it seems a little unlikely, though an attempt to explain this away as “love doesn’t have to make sense” is made, which I guess is fair enough in a way. There’s a woman who’s supposed to be a beautiful model (I actually thought she was quite ugly), who turns out to be a prostitute – at least for one night – which also seemed pretty pointless. But again, I’m pointing out the bad points in a film that generally has good performances.

Overall

If you can forgive the plot inconsistencies, you’ll find this to be an original, fun film. It’s not brilliant by any stretch of the imagination – some of my misgivings about Spielberg’s recent work were born out in this film, but on the other hand he shows that he hasn’t lost all of that old magic he once had. All in all, the only thing I can really say is that, while there’s a lot wrong with this film, there’s a lot right with it too, while Hanks and Di Caprio are good enough to carry it through the worst moments. Worth a look if you want a decent movie with more than decent actors, particularly if you’re a fan of either lead actor.

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