Hanks bids to catch up with DiCaprio in Spielberg's latest

Preview by Jack Foley

US REACTION: The battle of the DiCaprio movies gathered pace in America over Christmas, when Catch Me If You Can opened on the 25th - five days after Gangs of New York.

But while many insiders probably predicted that Martin Scorsese’s Gangs would be the critical favourite, it seems Steve Spielberg’s light-hearted crime caper, based on a true story, has emerged with the more positive reviews.

In fact, while Gangs drew as many negative notices as it did positive, the overall reaction to Catch Me If You Can was one of great joy, with many describing it as Spielberg’s lightest film in years.

Film Journal International got the ball rolling, by referring to the film as ‘a chance to see three splendid actors turn a larky chase movie into an emotionally satisfying exploration of the very human need to be somebody, and to belong to somebody’, while Film Threat said that it boasts ‘a first-rate performance’ and is ‘a fun, freewheeling story’.

Critical heavyweights such as Variety, Entertainment Weekly and Hollywood Reporter were also singing its praises, with the latter stating that Catch Me is ‘a lighter movie than [Spielberg] has made in a long while, and you sense his relief that nothing much is at stake’.

Variety, meanwhile, concluded that it is ‘more likeable than not’, while Entertainment Weekly awarded it a B and wrote that ‘like all outlaw capers, ‘Catch Me if You Can’ celebrates the amoral pluck of its hero’, while the film's ‘most distinctive quality, is its ironically sweet tone of jet-age nostalgia’.

"Spielberg catches you up in the blithe spirit of how easy it was, in an era when the technology of surveillance was in its infancy, for a smart operator to manipulate the power of suggestion," it continues, before suggesting that the ‘film's charm ends up worn out by the very perfection of Frank's con’.

The New York Post awarded it three out of four in its rating system, as did the New York Daily News, while Planet Sick-Boy gave it eight out of 10 and concluded that it ‘really has it all’.

Slightly more mixed, but still positive, was USA Today, which awarded it two and a half out of four and wrote that it ‘offers mild fun but never as much as its animated '60s-retro opening credits portend’.

Likewise, the Boston Phoenix, which concluded that ‘you'll be charmed and entertained for a couple hours, but then you'll realise you're out 10 bucks’.

But the feeling was, generally, that people should go see it. The New York Observer, for instance, said that it is ‘that rarity of rarities, a mainstream American feel-good movie with both charm and intelligence’, while the New York Times wrote that it is ‘the most charming of Mr Spielberg's mature films, because is it so relaxed’.

The final word, however, goes to the Northwest Herald, which deliciously observed: "Spielberg becomes a Sinatra with this one, asking us to do nothing more than snap our fingers and come fly with him."

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POSTED EARLIER: LEONARDO DiCaprio is poised to make Box Office history by being the star of two films being released on the same day in America this Christmas.

Martin Scorsese's hugely-anticipated Gangs of New York opens on Christmas Day alongside Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can, offering DiCaprio fans across America the tantalising opportunity of seeing their hero as an Irish gangster or a 60s-based master of deception, who quickly earned a place on the FBI's most-wanted list at the tender age of 18.

And while Scorsese's epic is sure to get the lions' share of the publicity (given its length, Oscar-calibre and history), spare a thought for the lighter, bouncier Catch Me If You Can, which not only boasts Spielberg as director (hot again, after this summer's Minority Report success), but Tom Hanks as co-star!

The film is a crime drama based on the antics of master of deception Frank Abagnale Jnr (DiCaprio) and the FBI agent who went after him (Hanks). Abagnale passed millions in bad cheques and impersonated a pilot, a physician, and a professor, among other ruses, before his eventual capture.

The idea for the film had been lurking around Dreamworks for some time, before Spielberg took the helm. Previous contenders had included David Fincher, Lasse (Cider House Rules) Hallstrom, and Gore (The Mexican) Verbinski, while the likes of James Gandolfini had been touted as co-stars. One thing remained certain throughout, however, and that was the presence of DiCaprio.

Spielberg only got on board once Hallstrom pulled out - but only after he had got High School friends of his wife, Kate Capshaw, to read for the parts around a table, to see how it played.

Hanks, meanwhile, made his own approach to Spielberg to be involved (having previously worked with the director on Saving Private Ryan) and was quickly snapped up by the eager director. He told Entertainment Weekly: "First time I spoke to Leo I said, 'I'm sorry - I hope you don't mind me horning on your movie. But it's just so good'."

Whether it's that good remains to be seen, of course, although the trailer looks hot, the quality of the cast and its director is beyond dispute, and advance word sounds promising. It may even have the festive lightness required to out-muscle DiCaprio's Gangs in the war over Box Office supremacy on December 25.

One person who is already calling the movie to question, however, is Abagnale himself who, apparently, wrote a letter to those involved with the film, pointing out that he never made the FBI's most wanted list and only passed off $2.5m in dodgy cheques.

Catch Me If You Can opens in the UK in January and co-stars the likes of Amy Adams, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen and Jennifer Garner. We hope to join the chase to see it soon...

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