Why Catch Me If You Can Is One of the Best Crime Dramas of the 2000s – TheFantasyTimes

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By Jitin Gambhir

Why Catch Me If You Can Is One of the Best Crime Dramas of the 2000s

In the current landscape of franchise-dominated cinema, directors often prioritize conforming to established formulas rather than showcasing their own unique identity. As a result, the films that are churned out can often feel formulaic and lacking in originality. However, there are exceptions to this trend, with certain filmmakers leaving a distinctive mark on the industry. One such director is Steven Spielberg, whose creative vision is evident throughout his entire career. Even when working within established franchises, Spielberg ensures that his personal touch is present, advocating for his own ideas and artistic integrity.

A Spielberg film is instantly recognizable due to his distinct audiovisual language, which aims to captivate and transport viewers into a fantastical world for a couple of hours. Even when tackling more grounded and realistic stories, Spielberg’s ability to create a sense of wonder and connection remains unwavering. He utilizes the medium of film to provide audiences with an entryway into his unique universe, where extraordinary events unfold amidst the rawness of reality. Spielberg never compromises on his storytelling, always finding ways to engage viewers with captivating narratives that can only be delivered by a master storyteller.

One prime example of Spielberg’s prowess as a filmmaker is his 2002 film, “Catch Me If You Can.” Starring Leonardo DiCaprio in one of his finest performances, the movie tells the true story of Frank Abagnale Jr., a young man who masterminded numerous fraudulent schemes and stole millions of dollars before his 19th birthday. Spielberg expertly navigates the genre boundaries of crime, drama, and comedy, resulting in a film that defies categorization and stands as one of the most compelling and original works of his career.

“Catch Me If You Can” delves into Abagnale’s life, starting from his troubled teenage years marked by his parents’ divorce. It becomes apparent that Abagnale’s criminal activities were driven partly by a rebellious response to his family issues. However, Spielberg avoids passing judgment on the character, instead focusing on the increasing severity of Abagnale’s crimes and the mesmerizing nature of his deceptions. Viewers are left wondering how a young boy managed to convince so many people of his false identities.

Abagnale assumes various roles throughout the film, including that of a commercial airline pilot, lawyer, doctor, and husband, all without any formal education. Yet, he never loses touch with his identity as a son, and his complex relationship with his father, portrayed brilliantly by Christopher Walken, adds another layer of intrigue to the narrative. In a pivotal scene, the two men meet in a restaurant, and Abagnale’s father is astounded by the person he has inadvertently shaped his son to become. Only the dissolution of their family unit can break Abagnale’s illusion of invincibility. While Abagnale’s ultimate goal is to avoid failure, a trait he perceives as weakness, he must confront his criminal actions to achieve true self-awareness.

The moral and justice dynamics in the film are exemplified through the character of Carl Hanratty, portrayed by Tom Hanks. Hanratty is the fraud specialist tasked with capturing Abagnale, and their relationship evolves into a complex dynamic resembling that of a father and son rather than a law enforcement agent and criminal. Hanratty becomes Abagnale’s only chance at redemption, embodying the concept that justice can take various forms. Spielberg’s twist on the traditional morality model is made possible through the deep bond that develops between Hanratty and Abagnale.

As the film progresses, viewers are left questioning the veracity of Abagnale’s exploits. His crimes, which include impersonating a pilot, forging payroll checks, masquerading as a doctor, and cashing countless checks, seem too audacious to be true. However, Spielberg’s intention is not to present a strictly factual account but rather to captivate and confound audiences. The film challenges viewers to question their own gullibility and susceptibility to deception, echoing Abagnale’s father’s sentiment that the rest of us are mere fools.

Visually, “Catch Me If You Can” is a masterpiece in Spielberg’s filmography. The cinematography by Janusz Kamiński creates a dreamlike atmosphere, immersing viewers in a world of illusion and intrigue. John Williams’ jazzy score adds an element of playfulness and innocence to the film, further enhancing the sense of being transported into Spielberg’s unique cinematic universe. However, the film’s most poignant moment lies not in Abagnale’s reckoning with justice but rather in his realization of the family he could have had. Spielberg portrays Abagnale’s short-lived escapades as a choice he couldn’t escape, ultimately leading him to find his purpose in life through redemption and service.

In conclusion, “Catch Me If You Can” stands as one of Spielberg’s most beautifully crafted films of the modern era. It defies genre conventions, captivating audiences with its blend of crime, drama, and comedy. Spielberg’s masterful storytelling and his ability to transport viewers into alternate realities are on full display, while the performances of Leonardo DiCaprio and the supporting cast bring the characters to life. Through its exploration of morality, justice, and the power of deception, the film challenges viewers to question their own beliefs and perceptions. Ultimately, “Catch Me If You Can” is a testament to Spielberg’s artistry and his ability to create compelling and thought-provoking cinema.

In today’s franchise-ridden cinema industry, directors don’t usually push to show their identity. Contracts come and go, and the results come as movies so generic that they feel factory-made in a production line. Sure, we’re talking about franchises here, but auteurship should always be a thing when it comes to leaving your imprint on film history. There are exceptions of course, and they’re always movies that give audiences something to talk about.


Steven Spielberg is one of those directors whose identity is felt throughout his whole career. Even when he “franchised,” he made sure to respect his limits and fight for his own ideas (Take for example The Lost World: Jurassic Park. It feels very Spielberg even if the film feels out of control in the end). You know when you’re watching a Spielberg film because his audiovisual language is unique and has a single goal: to daze you in a good way and allow you to live in an imaginary world for a couple of hours.

When Spielberg “lands” and makes more grounded films, such capacity isn’t sacrificed for the sake of realism. He will still use the picture in front of you as an entryway into his universe where amazing things can happen, but also where reality is in its rawest. He won’t ever filter it in order to be friendly. And he will find a way to connect you with storylines that could only be compelling in the hands of a master storyteller. Such is the case of 2002’s Catch Me If You Can.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio in one of his best executed roles, the film tells the story of Frank Abagnale Jr., the man who claimed to have committed fraud to everyone, and stole millions of dollars before his 19th birthday. Spielberg directs a historical crime film that travels between drama and comedy without sacrificing a single second of footage to comply with the rules of crime films. Without being similar to every other heist or crime movie, Catch Me If You Can ends up being one of the most interesting films in Spielberg’s career and one of the most original of the 2000s.

The Severity of Crime, Seen Through Spielberg’s Camera

Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks in Catch Me If You Can
DreamWorks Pictures

In Catch Me If You CanAbagnale’s story is told from the moment he was a teenager suffering his parents’ inevitable separation. It could be seen that Abagnale started his life of crime as a sort of rebellious answer to the issues he had at home. Still Spielberg never goes for a judgment approach when developing the character. His crimes become much more severe as he continues his journey, but in the same pace we become more spellbound by his creativity. All we keep asking is how he convinced everyone when he was just a teenage boy?

Related: Catch Me If You Can Ending, Explained

Abagnale becomes a commercial airline pilot, a lawyer, a doctor and a husband. All this without studying a single sentence. But he never stops being a son. The relationship with his father (played masterfully by Christopher Walken) is complex, and it almost drives you to question why his old man doesn’t stop him from being a criminal. In a pivotal scene, the Abagnale men meet in a restaurant and the father is simply astounded at what he has taught his son to be. Only his parents’ divorce can make him disconnect himself from the dreamland of indemnity he has created. The only goal of Frank Abagnale Jr. is to never accept any kind of failure, like the one his parents accepted so naturally.

But to accept he’s a criminal? For that, Abagnale’s journey should include an instance of self-awareness. Spielberg decides otherwise and gives much more weight to the counterpart that will make Abagnale somehow face justice.

A Great Fictionalized Play on Morals and Justice

Tom Hanks as Carl in Catch Me If You Can
DreamWorks Pictures

Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) is the agent specialized in fraud that hunts down the teenager, or at least tries to. When it’s time for Abagnale to face the severity of his crimes, Hanratty also represents his only opportunity at redemption. Hanratty confirms justice will come in any shape possible, and Abagnale’s only option is to surrender and face the gravity of the fake lifestyle he has put together. Spielberg’s twist on the morality model is only possible as Hanratty and Abagnale form a relationship that’s more “father and son” than “law enforcement agent and criminal.” Abagnale’s isolation from the world seems to be his only destination.

At this point, audiences started to wonder how much of this was true. The crimes he committed included: impersonating a Pan Am pilot, forging Pan Am’s payroll checks, impersonating an ER doctor and taking care of patients, and cashing countless checks in hotels. Surely, a man whose acts allowed him to steal millions must have been punished.

Related: Catch Me If You Can at 20: Exploring Spielberg’s True Story

But this is the great thing about Spielberg’s film: he never goes for reality because he doesn’t need the crime to be real to make an interesting film. Is it based on a true story? Is it really that important? Perhaps, this is Spielberg’s way of baffling us and making us stare at a smoke screen. As Abagnale’s father says to him while they’re toasting for the greatest present he ever received, and he understands his boy is deceiving the world: “the rest of us really are suckers”.

It’s One of Spielberg’s Most Beautifully Crafted Films

Christopher Walken as Frank Sr. in Catch Me If You Can@._V1_
DreamWorks Pictures

Catch Me If You Can is one of Spielberg’s most beautiful films of the modern part of his career. The cinematography by Janusz Kamiński is terrific and makes you feel as if you’re part of a dream. The score by John Williams is one of the most peculiar in his career as he adopts jazzy styles to make the film playful and harmless. And again, you feel like you’re in Spielberg’s universe. As safe as this sounds, the film’s most emotional moment doesn’t come when Abagnale faces justice. It’s when his dream is shattered to pieces as he stares at the family he was supposed to have.

Without a single moment of appraisal, Spielberg portrays Abagnale’s short endeavor as a choice he couldn’t get away from. He was a natural that (supposedly) ended up working for Hanratty in a fraud and forgery unit. He found his place in life the hard way, as a convicted felon whose crimes will never be measured because no one can really tell how much he made. Yeah, we would also be ashamed to reveal how much a boy was able to steal from us if we were a respectable company.

You can stream Catch Me If You Can on Max.

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