Christian Movie Reviews - Family Friendly Entertainment

Catch Me If You Can

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Jan
Catch Me If You Can
from Film Forum, 01/02/03

If dramas about coping with abuse and emptiness sound too heavy for you, Catch Me If You Can offers more whimsical entertainment. It is certainly a change of pace from director Steven Spielberg. There's no war or life-threatening crisis, no dinosaurs on the loose—just a clever con man on the run, trying to earn enough money to buy back the peace and happiness he had before his parents' divorce.

Leonardo Dicaprio plays real-life con Frank Abagnale Jr., whose memoirs inspired this loose—and I stress loose — interpretation of his late-'60s antics. Abagnale successfully evaded capture while posing as various professionals, including an airline pilot, a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher, and a professor, all at the age that most young men are finishing high school.

While it's not one of Spielberg's most ambitious works, Catch Me may be the most restrained and unsentimental film of his career. Never once does he turn on the onslaught of music, tears, and close-ups. Yet this comical crime caper explores profound questions about family, responsibility, the influence of parents on their children, judgment, and grace. Dicaprio turns in his best performance since What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, a complex balancing act between melodrama and comedy. He's a joy to watch. The laugh-out-loud-funny Tom Hanks returns (at last!) as Carl Hanratty, a humorless F.B.I. agent hunting the elusive imposter. Christopher Walken delivers Oscar-worthy work as Frank's father. And Nathalie Baye (An Affair of Love) plays Frank's mother, whose pursuit of the American dream requires compromises that are mirrored in Frank's own dishonest pursuit of happiness.

Holly McClure (Crosswalk) raves, "I enjoyed every minute of this fascinating story, and I encourage mature older teens to adults to see it for the valuable lessons it holds."

J. Robert Parks (Phantom Tollbooth) says, "Spielberg is back with straight, good-time entertainment. And let's be honest: few do that better. The production design is beautifully slick, and the acting is, as you might expect, top notch." Likewise, Zach Baliva (Relevant) raves, "Spielberg has finally done it. A blockbuster, yes, but with substance replacing pretension. Excitement, humor, emotion, theme and heart."

Loren Eaton (Focus on the Family) calls the film "a stunning piece of cinematography. Spielberg's understated and nuanced style holds moviegoers' attention from titles to credits." She also points out the differences between this film and the true story. "Best think of this movie as a fable. It is certainly not going to introduce you to Frank Abagnale Jr." (The film focuses on Frank's relationship with his father over the span of his run from he law, while in real life Frank saw his father for the last time in the courtroom where his parents divorced, before his illegal maneuvers.)

David Bruce (Hollywood Jesus) lists twelve major spiritual issues addressed in the film, and then three affirmations offered by the its conclusion: "1. There is a hound of heaven who cares. 2. Although each of us sins, there is grace. 3. There is new life."

Phil Boatwright (Movie Reporter) raises a question that troubles several Christian press critics. He wonders about his own enjoyment of films about thieves. "There's just something fun about rogues on the run. Why is that? I despise the crime of thievery. So why is it fun watching Paul Newman do it? Or Frank Sinatra, or Ryan O'Neil? Rooting for the suave criminal must be some vicarious pleasure."

Many are in fact criticizing the film because they believe it glorifies Abagnale's life of crime. Denny Wayman and Hal Conklin (Cinema in Focus) caution viewers, saying, "Viewers can be so impressed with the genius with which Frank Jr. broke the law … that they will miss the pain of his soul." Halyna Barannik (Christian Spotlight) remains conflicted about the same issue: "The morally unclear ending left me somewhat dissatisfied. My Christian perspective on the moral of the story is frustrated and unresolved." Dick Staub (Culture Watch) is also concerned: "The fact that Abagnale turns his expertise to the good is portrayed not as redemptive so much as the just result for such a good con." Similarly, Ted Baehr (Movieguide) complains, "The soft ending to the movie almost seems to condone Frank's adolescent behavior." Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) concludes that it "sends a skewed moral message."

I didn't get that impression at all. We learn early on that Abagnale pays for his crimes. Further, we see the damage that his indulgences have on others, especially a vulnerably and insecure young girl named Brenda (Amy Adams). Fortunately, Spielberg's film includes both justice and grace, making it not just an adventure, but a parable about the wages of sin and God's offer of forgiveness. We can sympathize with Abagnale's motives: all of us have at one time or another tried to achieve happiness by taking shortcuts. Thus we laugh in recognition at his antics, the same way a grownup might chuckle while watching a child try to sneak cookies from the cookie jar. Haven't we all enjoyed the story of a certain prophet who ran from his responsibility and landed in rather deep trouble?

Steven J. Greydanus (Decent Films) argues, "It celebrates [Frank's] cleverness and panache rather than his dishonesty, and ends on a satisfyingly redemptive note." Bob Nusser (Preview) concludes, "It also shows that an individual's behavior has consequences and that a depraved individual is capable of heart change."