Sunday, January 04, 2009

Catch Me If You Can

2002, US, directed by Steven Spielberg

Catch Me If You Can plays as something of an anthology of Spielberg's strengths as a pop filmmaker, and particularly his skills in crafting a clean narrative where everything seems to tie, almost inevitably, together. On one level, it's old-fashioned storytelling, and yet what's notable is that Spielberg makes something really rather difficult - editing a collection of shots and scenes into a coherent whole that makes perfect sense - into something almost invisible; it's a gift that much less appreciated, I think, because he's doing it in a pop context.

The subject matter here lacks the self-conscious profundity of many latter-day Spielberg movies, and you can sense him having fun with a shaggy dog story that's the more delicious for being true. Sequences like that where his protagonist, Frank Abagnale (Leonardo diCaprio, perfectly cast), meets his future in-laws in the patrician South are beautifully intercut with the tumbling of Frank's world behind the scenes: there's the familiar Spielberg focus on objects, with the G-men's guns in the foreground, but also the clear action such that we always know who's doing what to whom even as the scene shifts back and forth.

Earlier, there's also a lovely shot where we see Frank sit in the gloomy foreground and his mother (Nathalie Baye) in the back, bathed in light from the kitchen window, as Frank desperately tries to maintain his illusions about his parents; it seems like such a simple dichotomy, the light-dark opposition, yet it functions perfectly to illustrate Frank's struggle in that specific moment, so that it's not a simple visual trick but rather an enhancement to the development of the character.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States