Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Catch Me If You Can

The delectable Mr. Stryker finally called, asking me if I would like to come over to his home and help him with a rim job, as if I would understand auto mechanics. As the whole point of the relationship is a high profile publicity romance, I did not think his home would be a public enough venue. Besides, I know nothing about the changing of tires so I sent Miguel, my chauffeur and auto mechanic over in my place. I hope he can help Jeff with his problem. Miguel left carrying a note from me, hand lettered in lavender ink on cream colored vellum asking Jeff to join me this evening at a window table at Spago. As soon as I hear from him, I'll have Madame Rose alert the paparazzi and make sure there's lots of good candid shots of us having our little tete-a-tete.

In the meantime, I've been hard at work calling the buyers of the finer discount houses, making sure they order large quantities of MNM consumer goods for their spring lines. If I can't move some more Lesterene brand make-up and VickiWear, I'll be forced to take a lesser performing job to supplement my income and we know how selective I like to be when it comes to scripts and opportunities. I would never stoop to something so low as trashy reality television like so many of my colleagues.

Jeff still hadn't called when I'd finished my business chores so I packed up my cell phone and headed off to the multiplex for a matinee. When I got there, I found not one, but two Leonardo DiCaprio pictures competing for my attention. Catch Me If You Can, directed by Steven Spielberg, had a more convenient starting time so I settled back into my semi-reclining comfy seat and prepared to be entertained for the next several hours. I must say I enjoyed the film, and was thrilled to hear that the soundtrack included my recording of Embraceable Ewe from my noir thriller, The Big Sheep, of some years ago. I jotted a little note to make sure to contact Joseph, my manager, to make sure I'm receiving proper royalty payments from ASCAP.

Catch Me If You Can is the story of Frank Abagnale Jr., a real person, who led the FBI on a merry chase through the mid 1960s. Between the ages of 16 and 19, he successfully impersonated a Pan Am pilot, a pediatrician, and an assistant district attorney, all the while becoming an expert forger of payroll and other checks. While most of his peers were in high school, Frank managed to hoodwink Pan Am out of more than four million dollars and evade the FBI for years. He was finally caught while in his early 20s and served time in federal prison. In a final twist of fate, his skills as a forger were so good, he ended up working for the FBI in their forgery unit before becoming an independent consultant in fraud which has made him a legitimate multi-millionaire.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Frank and it's his film. For once, his boyish looks work for him, rather than against him and his baby face makes him a believable teenager despite his real age of nearly thirty. He also seems to have returned to his roots as an actor and pulls out a performance nearly as impressive as his turns in This Boy's Life and What's Eating Gilbert Grape that put him on the map before the Leo mania surrounding Titanic made him into a self parody. He's relaxed, assured, and allows us to see how young Frank got away with his outrageous scams by defining his ability to use body language and demeanor to hoodwink his victims.

Spielberg and his screenwriter, Jeff Nathan son, structure the film as a 1960s caper film, along the lines of Topkapi, starting with the credits sequence, which reeks of Saul Bass (and which gives away the whole plot). The breezy tone, the choice of music, and the meticulous attention to detail in costumes and set dressings bring back the Kennedy/Johnson era in all of its garish glory of bossa nova records, cocktails, jet age furniture and swinging stewardesses. The hook they use is the chase. Frank is always on the lam. One step behind is the dogged FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks), who's determined to bust him and shut down his career as a 'paperhanger'. Hanks unleashes none of his star power and looks positively dumpy in his ugly off the rack suits. He doesn't look quite as constipated as he did in The Road to Perdition earlier this year, but he seems bound and determined to lose his nice guy everyman image.

The other major performance, and in some ways the emotional center of the film, is Christopher Walken as young Frank's father. Walken, best known for his oddball repressed psychopaths, opens up as a somewhat befuddled businessman whom life is treating unkindly. As this is a modern film about the sixties rather than a sixties film, there's a whole layer of emotional psychological reasoning behind young Frank's actions. The implication is that young Frank embarks on his crime spree to restore the middle class trappings that the family loses in business reverses and to try and repair his parents' seriously fractured marriage. Walken takes this somewhat thankless part to heart and comes up with a completely honest character. One who loves his son but who cannot reach out to him through cultural and emotional barriers.

The major downside to the film is the length. It feels like it should be a zippy 90 or 100 minute long caper film. Instead it plods along for 141 minutes and, therefore, drags badly, especially in the second half. As it's a true story (and because the credits told us) we know where the movie is going to go and it fails to surprise us. A sequence where Frank spends time impersonating a doctor and another, where he falls in love with a young lady (Amy Adams) despite the reservations of her stern father (Martin Sheen channeling President Bartlett), seem to go on far too long. Spielberg is usually a master at trimming films for optimal pace (even when he has to cut great scenes and sequences). I do not know what happened here.

Still, there's lots of good stuff in the picture and it's worth a look for the performances and the period feel.

French war bride. Spilled wine. Querulous substitute teacher. Ridiculously overpriced call girl. Toy airplanes in bathtub. Gratuitous Perry Mason. Suitcases full of money. Horrific French prison. Gratuitous blind neighbor. Airport concourse confrontation.

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