Catch Me If You Can

I often forget about Catch Me If You Can. I own it on DVD but really only watch it if I catch it on cable. It’s a shame because this film has amazing performances by Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, and Christopher Walken and is among Steven Spielberg’s best work. I think what makes this movie so hard to remember, is that it’s so unlike anything we’re used to by these titans of the medium. The film tells the true story of how Frank Abagnale Jr survives on the run by forging checks and creating multiple fake identities, only to attract the attention of FBI agent Frank Hanratty, who makes it his goal to capture the kid.

This film is about growing up. We all had a moment in our childhood where we learned an adult we admire was less than perfect, so we can relate to the pain Frank Jr feels when he learns the truth about his father and sees the collapse of is parent’s seemingly perfect marriage. Frank Jr’s reaction is to run from the pain and create new realities for himself. It isn’t until he meets and falls for the troubled Brenda (Amy Adams) that while it’s been fun watching him elude the FBI and convince many he was a pilot, a doctor,  and a lawyer, but he’s still a boy who wants his family back together.

Divorce is a common theme in Spielberg’s work. In an entirely fictional scene, Frank Jr visits his father and attempts to impress him with all his manufactured success. The real Frank Jr loved this addition because he often dreamed of making his father proud and finding a way of bringing his parents back together. It isn’t until he discovers his father has died and his mother has had a child with her new husband, that he allows himself to be caught.

While Leonardo DiCaprio is clearly the star, the supporting cast really knocks it out of the park. Tom Hanks clearly had fun making this film, getting to use an exaggerated accent and disguise his famous face. The role reminds me of Hanks’ earlier work, when he played less heroic men. It’s interesting to watch as the relationship between Frank Jr and Hanratty evolves. While they start out as rivals, they slowly begin to care for each other because neither has anyone else in the world.

Christopher Walken is great as Frank Sr, who obviously passed on his ability to bend the truth to his only son. While he plays himself up as a great businessman who has the perfect marriage for his son, it is quickly revealed that he has not been completely honest on his taxes which leads his wife to leave him for one of his friends.  Though he destroys his family, it’s hard to not feel sorry for the guy. He isn’t a malicious person, just a guy who wanted to be respected and maybe wasn’t so good at paying his taxes. Walken so frequently does ridiculous stuff, it’s nice to see him in a quality project.

The film has a really fun tone to it. If you haven’t seen this mostly forgotten gem, I would encourage you to check it out.

The Aviator

I’m a big fan of biopic, particularly when they are done right, and The Aviator tells the story of one of the biggest oddballs in Hollywood history with honesty, tenderness, and, occasionally, humor.

I was thirteen when Titanic came out, so I will always have a soft spot for Leo. I admire him because he’s a guy who could have coasted on his looks alone, but he always chooses his roles carefully. He’s one of those actors whose films you can depend on to at least be interesting in some way. As Howard Hughes, you watch a man who has everything (looks, money, intelligence, creativity) but will lose it all to mental illness. I love how clear it is that Howard knows he is not normal, but is powerless to control himself. At one point, he must hold his hands over his mouth to stop himself from repeating the same sentence over and over again. You also watch his OCD progress with time, knowing eventually this man who flies around the world and dates movie stars will be a shut-in who is mocked on The Simpsons for wearing tissue boxes as shoes. I can’t think of another movie or television show that portrays OCD with as much respect.

While Leonardo DiCaprio is terrific as Howard, the person who really shines in this film is Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn, who won an Oscar for her performance. The film portrays Hepburn as the only woman who could bring out the tender side of Howard and the only person who could get him to relax enough to have some fun. In a moment of screenwriting genius, Howard shares his milk with Kate, showing us how much this germaphobe must trust her. The two are intelligent and opinionated people with strong personalities, which is what draws them to each other and eventually tears them apart. Kate’s family is too intense, Howard romances other women in the press, Kate likes to be the center of attention, Howard is too obsessed with work, but it all ends when Kate meets the love of her life, Spencer Tracy. Although the relationship ends, it is clear the two always remained special to each other. Cate does a great job of channeling this icon, to the point where I think of this performance whenever I watch one of the real Hepburn’s films.

I would recommend this film to be seen with Scorsese’s other love letter to film, Hugo. It is clear when you watch The Aviator that Scorsese was highly influenced by early filmmaking. He recreated the looks of early color film processes Cinecolor & Technicolor to make everything look like a color film from the time periods represented. This is most notable in the scene where Errol Flynn takes the peas off Howard’s plate. The peas have a bluish tint to them. The colors become stronger as time progresses.

I think this film is a great biopic because it takes a figure that many have heard of, but few know intimate details and paints him not as a sinner or a saint, but a person who was capable of greatness but often sabotaged by his own weaknesses.