The first time I saw Steven Spielberg’s cat-and-mouse flick "Catch Me If You Can," I knew it was destined to become a classic. Of course, over the years, when you talk about Spielberg's best films you will have people name-checking the usuals, such as “Saving Private Ryan,” “Schindler’s List,” "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," and "Minority Report." But “Catch Me If You Can”? Almost never mentioned.
Guillermo del Toro decided to single out the film on Twitter as "the greatest underrated movie ever made."
The film was released on Christmas day 2002, and paired cinematic giants Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio. The reviews were mostly positive, and the box office huge ($352 million worldwide), but why does nobody talk about it anymore? Del Toro has argued for a reassessment, highlighting Spielberg’s “nimble camera-actor staging” and how the camerawork is "perfectly engineered," going on to add "Spielberg is the modern master of the 1-3 minute single shot," with which I wholeheartedly agree. Nobody working today can come close to Spielberg's 1-3.
I actually find Spielberg has become a better, more refined filmmaker over the years. The craft and masterful storytelling between 1998 and 2006 ("Saving Private Ryan," "Munich," "Minority Report," "Lincoln," "AI," "Catch Me If You Can," and "War of the Worlds") far exceeds his sometimes flawed, but more brilliant than not work from the '70s and '80s ("Close Encounters," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Temple of Doom," "Jaws," "The Sugarland Express" and "Duel")
Back in the day I wrote this about the film and DiCaprio's performance:
"What a playful, enjoyably persistent performance by DiCaprio. Steven Spielberg took Leo’s charisma and infectious personality and used it to move his film into such cheery, infectious territory. This was only five years after “Titanic”. DiCaprio had just come out of relative failures such as “The Man in the Iron Mask”, “Celebrity”, and “The Beach”. With all three movies he was trying to destroy his public image as the pretty boy next door. What he didn’t realize was that he could use his aforementioned image and charisma to give us this great performance. Abagnale Jr’s escapades are so absurd yet they all actually happened. The real life Frank had such a great personality that he got away with almost every bad deed he did. DiCaprio shone because he did just that; he used his attractiveness to mold a character that we cheered for, even as he was breaking the law and making the FBI look like idiots. What is there not to like? Looking back on this performance we can see just how tough a performance like this can be, yet DiCaprio made it look effortless.”