Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks pair up for light comedy
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 05/21/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Director Steven Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks pair up for a these two attempts at light comedy. Now the idea that Spielberg and Hanks, who worked together on "Saving Private Ryan," would spend there time on this trifle might be too much for some fans to take. But then Leonardo DiCaprio, who had seen little sign of the critical success ("What's Eating Gilbert Grape") or box office success ("Titanic") of his earlier days was probably just happy to have had movies with Spielberg and Martin Scorsese out at the same time. Okay, so "Catch Me If You Can" is not a great film. It is a very good film and that puts all the parties concerned ahead of the game given the standard fare from Hollywood.
The story might not be about life and death, but it is certainly compelling. Young Frank W. Abagnale Jr (DiCaprio) runs away from home rather than deal with the divorce of his parents and has to live by his wits and the checkbook in his back pocket. It turns out his wits are pretty good and he is not only able to pass millions of dollars worth of bad checks, but pass himself off as an airline pilot, doctor, and lawyer. Doggedly pursuing him is F.B.I. agent Carl Hanratty (Hanks), who knows that Frank is really a beggarman and thief. Actually, we know that Frank will get his man, because that is how the film opens, and it is as Hanratty is bringing Frank back to the United States from France that the story is revealed.
"Catch Me If You Can," based on Abagnale's biography, is the story of an engaging rogue who uses his charm and aforementioned quick wits to get himself out of one sticky situation after another. The man had panache, which is exemplified when he has to get through the Miami airport despite the fact Hanratty has F.B.I. agents at every other line. The movie is not really a primer for a life of crime since Abagnale's did his con man act in the Sixties and technology has advanced well beyond his effective use of a bathtub full of water and model airplanes to make thousands of dollars.
In addition to the questions regarding how Frank does it and how Hanratty catches him, there is the relationship between the two men as well as the relationship between Frank and his father (Christopher Walken), from whom he gets his charm and sense of larceny. It is when the film operates on this level that "Catch Me If You Can" becomes another classic Spielberg film, at least in the sense of the constant theme of symbolic fathers and sons, even if it never gets churned into real butter.
"The Terminal" is certainly based on a contrived situation, but there is nothing wrong with that being the case. Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) arrived in the United States at JFK Airport in New York City, clutching a bag and a can of Planter's Peanuts. Unfortunately while his plane was flying across the Atlantic there was a military coup in his native land of Krakozia. According to the bureaucrats his nation no longer exists, which means his passport is no longer valid, his visa has been rejected, and he cannot be allowed to enter the United States (that is, to go outside the airport). He cannot be allowed to return back to his warn torn country. To add insult to injury, when Customs official Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) tries to explain to Navorski why he is "unacceptable," the poor guy does not understand enough English to really understand what is happening to him.
Yes, you can certainly reach a translator on the phone if you do not have one on hand and the government has regulations for what happens in situations like this that do not allow people to fall through the cracks. But if we can entertain a willing suspension of disbelief to watch movies about catastrophic climatic changes and teenagers given mutant powers by the bite of a radioactive spider we can enjoy Steven Spielberg's fable about a man stuck in an airport terminal and refusing to lose his optimism or his humanity. Besides, there really was somebody who was forced to stay in an airport terminal, an Iranian refugee whose his passport and United Nations refugee certificate had been stolen (it was Charles De Gaulle Airport and French officials who refused to let the man go anywhere).
Hanks, looking rather frumpy, provides another performance that shows he is at his best as a leading man when he is proving himself to be a character actor. Some of his most effective moments are when he is speaking in his foreign tongue, where the words are never understood but the emotional meanings are always clear. He plays a character that is told he cannot leave the airport terminal and so he does not leave the airport terminal. As he goes through the routines of his holding pattern keep encountering a small cast of characters including Gupta Rajan (Kumar Pallana), the janitor who likes to mop floors and watch people ignore the signs and fall on their butts, and Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the flight attendant who loses a heel on her shoe in front of Navorski doing just that. Meanwhile our hero has to deal with just surviving living in an airport terminal. Of course he does more than that, and as you would imagine he becomes something of a cult hero to those who work in the terminal as he not only endures but also perseveres.
Remember that this story is not a linear narrative but one that circles around, sometimes going down and sometimes up. You will also fall into the traps of various expectations with regards to the villain and the beautiful girl of the piece. But neither Dixon nor Amelia fits the stereotype and these somewhat rude awakenings serve to remind us that this film is about something else. That is because the biggest case of misdirection comes from the fact that we forget the question of why Navorski has come to America. This is just as well because you never would have guessed the reason and where "The Terminal" is different from other Spielberg movies is that the big moment really is a small moment, which is why it is the better of these two collaborations."