swinging sixties. Everything just seemed so much crisper and
cooler then. And to be an admired member of society, you actually
had to do something; actual jobs had glamour to them. Before
the modern concept of celebrity really took root, kids wanted
to grow up and become things like airline pilots, stopping
uniformed men on the streets and asking for their autographs.
(Nowadays, kids want a job with a future.)
Me If You Can, director Steven Spielberg places celebrity
Leonardo DiCaprio as one such kid, looking to be one of the
admired and bring a sense of pride back to his family. But
DiCaprio's Frank Abagnale, Jr. would rather not do it the
old-fashioned way. Inspired by his father's harmless (and
ultimately futile) cons, Frank embarks on a multitude of phony
careers that allow him to live the high life all across the
globe, always one step ahead of the FBI man who discovers
his schemes. Amazingly enough, Frank's journey all happens
between his sixteenth and twenty-first birthdays.
the description, you'd think this was one heck of a jazzy
caper film, but Spielberg and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson
want to achieve something a little deeper. While the result
ends up being respectable, it also keeps this film from really
taking off into greatness, as it forgets one crucial thing:
we really want Frank to get away with it.
but that's no spoiler. The film begins with Frank about to
be extradited from a French prison, then flashes back over
his remarkable career. But his pursuer, Carl Hanratty (Tom
Hanks), is no Inspector Javert. Between the two men lies an
uneasy respect. The FBI agent has to do his job, but a part
of him understands that Frank is still really just a lost
that realization comes slowly. At first, Frank seems to genuinely
have it all. His father has just become a lifetime member
of the Rotary Club. The family has a huge house, and parents
Frank, Sr. (Christopher Walken) and Paula (Nathalie Baye)
seem very much in love. Then the cracks start showing.
Jr.'s world begins to crumble in the wake of his parents'
divorce, he runs. Having learned from his father that people
only know what you tell them, he moves up from impersonating
a substitute teacher at his new public school to pretending
to be a Pan Am co-pilot. (Actually, the movie provides a folksy
phrase for this: "the Yankees always win because the other
teams can't take their eyes off the pinstripes.")
kids, it has become much harder to pull off these impersonations
since the sixties, so don't try them at home. But these are
some of the most fun moments in the film as Frank discovers
the power of pulling the wool.
his cons move up to forging checks, as living a pilot's lifestyle
takes money. Playfully seducing a bank teller, he learns the
ins and outs of how checks get processed, and how someone
could keep a step ahead of the system. This catches the attention
of Hanratty, and the two even meet face to face early on.
But Frank is just too clever, and Hanratty has never read
The Flash. So when his quarry claims to be Secret Service
agent Barry Allen, only the geeks in the audience know the
nod to fanboys everywhere, it is a teenaged waiter in a coffee
shop who points out The Flash's identity to Hanratty. Once
again, it was a more innocent age when such a revelation really
would be a clue that his perp was underage.)
we get swept up in the fun, Spielberg won't let Frank or us
really revel in it for long. Even Frank's dalliance with a
high-priced model turned prostitute (Jennifer Garner - yes,
of Alias and Daredevil) is supposed to be teaching
us a lesson about what Frank has lost, and how really lonely
he has become. But really, it warrants the observation that
more hookers should take checks.
enough the thrills become rueful. Impersonating a doctor,
Frank really just wants to be accepted into a normal family.
When his candy-striper fiancée (Amy Adams) brings him home
to New Orleans to meet her district attorney father (Martin
Sheen), Frank chucks it all to become a lawyer.
his real father to tell him to stop. And he keeps reaching
out to Hanratty, desperate for some form of discipline in
this film stars DiCaprio and Hanks, it works less obviously
than it has a right to. Their cat and mouse game has a charm
that keeps rising above the dangerous pathos of the material.
Now that's he's free of heart throb status (or is he?), DiCaprio
can remind us again that oh, yeah, he's also an incredibly
good actor. And for the first time in a while, Hanks even
pulls out a lot of his old comedic mannerisms.
the film goes on just a little too long, determined to show
us that Frank needs redemption. At one point, it provides
a perfect light ending (allegedly hitting a note that the
real Frank's autobiography ended on), but then keeps going
into the inevitable fall. Maybe it wouldn't be as important
a film without such a coda, but we really didn't need it.
the score keeps trying to convince us of the movie's importance.
Instead of swinging music, John Williams delivers a pseudo-suspense
track right out of Bernard Herrmann's work on Psycho.
That score may have an ironic edge to it now, but it wasn't
originally intended to be funny, making an odd source for
It still keeps hauling itself back up into cool. For one thing,
it gives Walken the best role he's had in years. Spielberg
allows him to indulge all his quirks and yet keeps him grounded
enough that we always believe his character. You might even
wish your dad was more like him, and who ever thought that
Me If You Can isn't the tour de force that it wants to
be, and yes, it probably could have been. What remains won't
waste your time, and serves as a pretty good holiday movie.
It's just a little too easy to look past the pinstripes.