Movie Review: Catch Me if You Can

This was a surprisingly delightful little movie. Not deeply thought provoking, not requiring a lot of thought or analysis. Character development was rather spotty. Plot development was rather haphazard. But I enjoyed watching the movie all the same.

The characters were eye-catching, if two-dimensional. The intrigue of wondering what Frank (DiCaprio) would attempt to pull off next, and the fun of watching him succeed was adequate to keep me interested enough – despite the length of the film (almost 2.5 hours). It flirts with being a lot of things. A love story. A father-son story. A family story. It brushes up against deep themes that captivate people – without ever getting bogged down in the tediousness of actually working with the themes. In this case, a wise move. The movie maintains a light touch throughout, which does render some of the closing scenes somewhat perplexing, but not disturbing.

Frank runs away from home as his parents are divorcing, creating new identities and vocations in a consuming quest to find the success, the respect, and ultimately the love that eluded his parents. Carl (Hanks) is the FBI agent in the fledgling bank fraud division who is attempting to first identify, then apprehend Frank. Maybe it was just me, but Hanks’ portrayal of Carl was an eerie sort of foreshadowing of the character Know-It-All from Hanks’ later effort, The Polar Express.

As the cat and mouse game ensues, Frank half-taunts, half-reaches out to Carl as a replacement father figure. Carl demands of Frank the one thing that Frank needs his own father (played by Christopher Walken) is unable to demand, and the one thing that Frank most wants his father to demand – that he give up his charades. Frank idolizes his father, and wants desperately for his father and mother to reunite, a delusion every bit as fantastical as the ones he pulls over on others.

At it’s deepest, this movie asks questions about the nature of truth. And in a typical post-modern fashion, the answers are that truth is what people make of it. “People only know what you tell them”, Frank tells Carl in one of their showdowns. If you tell people you’re a pilot, who are they to say you aren’t? If you say you’re a doctor, who is anyone to say you aren’t? Unfortunately, behind this breezy post-modern facade is the hard reality that actually, there are plenty of people who expect to know more than what you tell them, or expect that what you tell them should be true. As much as we seek to wish away Truth in a grander sense, it haunts us and reveals our dependency upon it at every turn. Truth is ultimately what Frank wants, despite his proclivity for lying. The hard truth of Carl’s world is ultimately what Frank exchanges his extravagant lies for, despite the goading of his real father constantly asking him “Where are you going tonight, Frank? Somewhere exotic?”

But don’t get me wrong, this movie doesn’t require you to think that much. Enjoy the period decor and costumes and cars. Marvel at Frank’s audacity and charm. But be assured in the end by Carl’s rather dour – but True – assurance to Frank – “The house always wins”. There is a Truth, and not only must it be known, we’ll all be relieved when it is.

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