Friday, December 26, 2008

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

In what may be his most nakedly personal picture, Steven Spielberg performs an act of cinematic alchemy. Catch Me If You Can should be enjoyed as a blast of retrospective, of Rat Pack cool, of unbridled American nostalgia for a distinct time and place. Considered by many to be the modern master of the chase film, Spielberg creates what is at first glance a weightless chase movie, a careless pastiche. Underneath the coruscating surface of hip patinas, however, exists a picture of marked subversiveness and philosophical toiling—a film that simultaneously extols and critiques the very foundational artistic buttress of its creator. What results from this pièce de résistance is nothing less than a singularly fluent ambuscade, naturally appealing in its demeanor while supplying a multi-layered visual shorthand and ruminative ambivalence that transcends the mostly “true story of a real fake,” as the film's poster's tag-line promises in the first of a plethora of self-conflicted filmic aphorisms.

Leonardo DiCaprio gives the best performance of his career as teenager Frank Abagnale, Jr., whose gleefully related trouble-making immediately veered toward the supplanting of authority and its figures through fraudulent means (he assumes the position of substitute teacher in a French class and succeeds in carrying it off for days on end). After his parents' marriage disintegrates into the acrimony of divorce, however, Frank, Jr. expands on his con-artistry, reaching a lasting pubescent criminal landmark, literally running away from his situation, switching identities at will and posing as an airline copilot, doctor and lawyer, cashing millions of dollars worth in forged checks before he reached the age of nineteen. Suave and charismatic with a childlike, wide-eyed wonder, DiCaprio imbues Frank, Jr. with the sentiment of the fundamentally good child gone astray. Playing adult, and furthermore doing so in specifically respect-attracting vocations, DiCapro's Frank, Jr. is just a little like the proverbial child in the candy store. It is with a wild, frolicking sense of frenzied pace that Spielberg gives filmic life to Jeff Nathanson's screenplay (based on Frank Abagnale, Jr.'s autobiographical book). Spielberg is enormously aided in this effort by editor Michael Kahn, whose crisp, nearly flawless assuredness helps make a 142-minute picture fly by at a most appropriate celerity, conveying Frank, Jr.'s literal and figurative flying through the American dream.

Echoing Spielberg's own childhood, family life and broken home, the picture likewise demonstrably carries with it the respective escape hatches through which Frank, Jr. and Spielberg rushed as youths. Left to their own recuperative imaginations, Frank, Jr. and Spielberg essentially recreated themselves. In so doing, they found creative glee in the manufacturing of entire scenarios (one, the details of his own identity; the other, the mushrooming meanings of his own nascent artistic sensibilities). Viewing the nuclear family as synonymous with contentment at approximately the same time in real history, Frank, Jr. and Spielberg both attempt to seize every opportunity to resurrect it for themselves, even as they eventually fashion new quasi-familial arrangements as part of their undertaking. Frank, Jr. is the ultimate paradox: a child who never grew up passing as an adult in almost everyone's eyes. His almost pathological need to bring his parents back together, to regenerate the personal conditions considered deceased by those who know better, is equally profound and pitiable. Spielberg's personal memory has perhaps never played such a prominent role in his cinema before or since—in many ways Catch Me If You Can operates as a phony-but-true autobiography.

As Spielberg first essays Frank, Jr.'s home life, it is Christmastime. (As the film progresses, Christmas Eve will be a recurring and important motif symbolizing hearth, home and family—and the absence of same in terse but gently paternal telephone confrontations between Frank, Jr. and chastising replacement father figure and FBI agent seeking the con artist's arrest, Carl Hanratty played by Tom Hanks. The mutual loneliness of the conversations is made visually apparent, including one with Frank, Jr. in a lonely hotel room and the other with him resting in a high-class, empty bar after visiting a disheveled bar at which his father was stewing.) Frank, Sr. (an astonishing Christopher Walken) is dancing in the festively decorated living room with his French war bride, Frank's mother (Nathalie Baye) to the song, “Embraceable You.” Later, when Frank, Jr. is courting a pretty Lutheran nurse Brenda (Amy Adams) in Louisiana, he will spy on her mother and father, tenderly dancing to the same song as they wash ditches in their kitchen. In the film's affectionate introduction to the Abagnale household, however, the dynamic between father and son is wonderfully conveyed as Frank, Jr., having briefly left the room, returns, making eye contact with Frank, Sr. as the husband/father figure displays the consequential placement he enjoys in their household, that which he hopes his son will one day achieve for himself. However, the American dream is dashed away when the IRS targets Frank, Sr. on tax evasion charges. The spacious middle class house the Abagnales called home is vacated, their car sold and soon Frank, Jr.'s mother finds comfort and economic hope in Frank, Sr.'s “very good friend,” Jack Barnes (James Brolin), who had given Frank, Sr. an award at the rotary club in Frank, Sr.'s first scene of the film. Having run away from the entire predicament when forced to choose which parent he wishes to live with, Frank, Jr. is Oedipally motivated beyond all else, and fiercely determined to gladden and avenge his beleaguered father.

The opening credits sequence by graphic arts company Kuntzel and Degas recalls the beautiful animated geometric lines so immortally used for Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest. In part, the picture is emulating certain aspects of Hitchcock's self-critiquing playfulness and a bottomlessly deep, nuanced thematic treatment just beneath the film's shiny surface. There is even an open homage to the James Bond film <Goldfinger. In the scene following the Goldfinger homage—complete with Frank wearing the exact same suit Sean Connery wore as James Bond in the film, Frank naming himself after Ian Fleming and acquiring a silver Aston Martin—another, subtler Bond homage commences. Frank meets Cheryl Ann (Jennifer Garner), an escort. Spielberg shoots the scene in low-angle reverence—making the courting begin with the pair's respective pairs of feet immediately meeting cute. Once they make it into a hotel room, “The Look of Love,” the original song from that most fascinating cinematic experiment in 1960s excess and grandeur, Casino Royale, plays during their negotiations.

Meanwhile, Spielberg makes a comment on the glossy Hollywood productions of the era in myriad ways; Janusz Kaminski's bright cinematography reminds of many capers and comedies of the time in which the film is set. Spielberg's emphasis on back-lighting and frequent uses of shafts of “God light” repeatedly cast the young central character and Spielbergian avatar in the blinding light of unreasonable choice. Angered by a man's presence in his home, Frank, Jr. (henceforth simply “Frank”; Frank, Sr. will remain Frank, Sr.) yells at him, all the while reeling backwards into his kitchen. The glowing orange light that engulfs Frank serves as a nimbus in which he is both tested, and, as the film unspools, suspended. It is at this moment that Frank finds his nuclear family shattered. John Williams' jazzy score blithely underscores Frank's deeds. Later, in a hotel lobby, a blinding, multi-pronged waterfall of light will cascade behind Frank as he smoothly makes one man accommodate him.

Spielberg's shooting in low-angle provides not merely a familiar visual commentary on the director's anxiety, ambivalence and abhorrence of institutional structures and central power, but also a heightened note on the anonymity of America itself. The stick figure-like creations in the credits sequence is a revisited visage. Fifteen minutes into the picture, when Frank plays faux chauffeur for his father at a New York City bank, Spielberg shoots the scene from the ground—casting the towering skyscrapers behind the father and son (symbiotic fixtures of the Spielberg lexicon, and finally, two respective individuals outside the corridors of systematic clout) with their anonymous surfaces as contrasts to the entrepreneurial struggles Frank will later endure. And indeed, later as Frank is speaking into a pay-phone, scheming to snag a copilot's uniform from Pan Am, Spielberg commences the scene with an overwhelming shot of the Pan Am Building. The camera quickly reels from the comically absurd imposition—down from all of the windows to the street, and all of the cars, and people, panning leftward until it reaches Frank in the phone booth. A moment later, after having achieved this task, Frank is captured in a bird's eye view. He is walking on a sidewalk, moving through a sea of people. It is because of the copilot uniform, with its hat, that the viewer is able to follow him so easily: he literally looks like a white dot from above.

Seconds thereafter, Spielberg meets Frank down on the sidewalk, the youth walking with great purpose. Women gaze at him; a little girl is delighted to meet him. Frank grins. As he continues to walk, now into the direction of the camera, a black man in a suit can be seen walking with him, to his left. In this shot the two are alone, and together, seemingly walking in the opposite direction of everyone else. A racial component presents itself. Catch Me If You Can has been criticized by the unobservant as not featuring blacks, yet it is this very subduedly mounted sociopolitical essaying that speaks to Spielberg's concerns. At around the forty-two minute mark, seven or so minutes after the shot in which Frank and the black man are walking on the sidewalk, both smiling, both evidently carrying with them the hopes so attendant to the cause of realizing the ascendancy inherent in the promise of the American dream, another pairing, this time of a little white boy and little black boy, presents itself. They are in a bank. Both are dressed almost humorously, wearing pants, dress shirts and glasses. Much later when Frank is playing the role of a doctor, he is finally confronted with the inconvenience of a patient—a black boy has broken his leg in a bicycle accident. “Do you concur?” Frank asks his underlings, learning the television phraseology of medicine from episodes of “Dr. Kildare.” Finally, at Frank's wedding to Brenda, a black singer lets out, “I won't stop 'till I reach the top!” The statement can easily be transcribed to Frank's quixotic quest.

In parallel cases of “screwing,” in one scene flowers are being moved about uncomfortably, humorously shaking. It is revealed that Frank is at his typewriter, carrying out one of his many schemes. A little later, a pile of dishes will rattle and shake—to the soundtrack of a stewardess changing her tune in the previous scene of “No... No!” to “Yes! Yes! Yes!” as Frank employs his sparkling confidence in carnal matters. Spielberg's fixation on the joys and pitfalls of sensualist desires are juxtaposed against both Frank's development as boy-man and criminal con-artist mastermind. Deliriously re-staging the old Hollywood staples he finds so amusing, Spielberg has this first sex scene take place against the background of a storm outside; later, when Adams' Brenda smooches Frank, and the two “make out,” a great rainstorm transpires just outside. A sequence in which Frank the conman interviews would-be stewardesses recalls another Spielberg conman's efforts to find an effective typist in Schindler's List. Elsewhere, the boyhood-turned-phallic obsession of airplanes continues, altered from childlike “pretend” of flying in Empire of the Sun to another “pretend.” Subtextually delivering Frank into one telephone conversation after another with his pursuer, Carl Hanratty, on Christmas Eves, Spielberg highlights the communicative alleviation his son-figures need.

Walken's portrayal of Frank, Sr. is heartbreaking in its poetic demeanor. Crushed by the loss of his wife—whose standing as a French woman in World War II brings to question how she viewed him (as savior from the hell she knew?)—and at a loss of words when talking with his son over an expensive dinner, he finds his sentences finished by his son, all the while only barely able to hold back his tears. Finally, as Frank, Sr. finds his life more mercilessly ripped apart by the government for which he served, his social standing dissipates, descending from the comfortable middle class existence he enjoyed to the fluid, subtly despairing Dickensian camera pan of the down and out at a neighborhood bar at another Christmas, illuminating the lowness to which he has been thrown. (Yet another sly but heated questioning of the “American dream,” and the status of the often-labeled “disenfranchised.”) Something of an irresponsible man as father figure—laughing away Frank's supposedly significant misdeeds at school with his son—he cannot comply with his son when Frank asks his father to ask him to stop his criminal behavior, and his running. (This, in part, a continuation of Spielberg characters pursued by central governmental authorities and electing to run from the punishment they themselves know they do not deserve.) Frank, Sr.'s question for Frank is repeated—“Where are you going, Frank? Someplace exotic?” For the father, a veteran of the Second World War (like Spielberg's father, Arnold) all he can now do is live vicariously through his son.

Wreathed in a kind of palpable humanism, Spielberg's film finds its source of tension not in routine archetypal characterizations and paradigms but in the earnest efforts of people to connect, beyond themselves, to others. Hanks' Carl is a stickler, a perfectionist and a G-man—seemingly humorless, and unfriendly with his coworkers, he himself is deeply wounded by the loss of his wife and daughter, wearing his wedding ring out of impotent defiance. As he tells Frank late in the picture, sometimes the only option that remains is to live the lie. Perusing Spielberg's canon, one finds not stale enactments of positivity and negativity but always a battle of ideas, and considerations of people. Catch Me If You Can recalls nothing less than the director's 1974 picture The Sugarland Express, in which the line between the lawful and unlawful only mattered to the characters, whose fates were observed with great empathy. In Catch Me If You Can, Spielberg's melancholic love for the mischievous, like that of Francois Truffaut, with The 400 Blows, causes the antics to ripple more deeply.

Fear is present, however, but it is a leitmotif of confusion and masculine paranoia. Repeatedly, women are framed, looking directly into the camera (Frank's point-of-view), thusly illustrating the male-female dichotomy at play. This also plays into the color schema of the picture, as faces are brightly put under spotlights. And spotlights encroach upon the fearful, as Carl's car's headlights shine like spotlights through Brenda's house during Frank's wedding celebration. Prismatic shots of Carl's face reflected in the glass frame of Frank's bogus doctorate in Atlanta juxtapose against the splashy colors of Frank's existence, as seen in his clothing, customs and environs. The FBI's institutional color palette is drab and grim, with Venetian blinds casting noirish shadows on the thin-tied G-men roaming their gray offices. It is in this prison of sorts that Frank finally finds himself, away from the comic books of Barry Allan as The Flash, away from the Christmas tree around which his mother and father danced, away from the endless search for home. Frank becomes a cog in the machine, a part of the system, an instrument for the government that hounded both he and his father (who, like his son, joined up--as a Post Office employee). As the closing title cards flash against the new father-son dynamic Spielberg has overseen with such modulation and tempered expectations, the acidic truth bitterly seeps into the nervous system of the viewer. The multifarious lamina that coats the picture is sweet. The core of the candy stings.

49 comments:

Chuck said...

The last six words defines, succintly, perfectly, the brilliant misdirection of great Spielberg pictures. One of your best Alexander.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you very much, Chuck. Coming from a fellow Spielberg fan that especially means a lot.

Moses Hernandez said...

A magnificent celebration of a man who in my mind is still our most effortlessly brilliant popular cinematic artist. Your points about the fluency of his visual language hit the nail on the head. Tremendous.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you so very much, Moses.

Sam Juliano said...

I am a huge Spielberg fan (A.I.,, Shindler's List, Empire of the Sun, E.T. all masterpieces) and I like this one modestly. I will return to this exhaustive piece before teh weekend is out and have a full response. Looks great though, I must say, Alexander!

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you, Sam, I look forward to your response once you've taken this on, haha!

Anonymous said...

One of the best pieces of writing on Spielberg I've ever read. I consider this his most underrated movie. Great, great piece.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you very much for that high praise, Anonymous. As you might have guessed from the review, I find this film to be still quite underrated.

Ari said...

You're a mighty fine writer, Alex, and this is a tremendous review of one of Spielberg's best films. Catch Me.. feels personal in the way ET, Close Encounters and Empire of the Sun do. Sometimes Spielberg's sensibility clashes with the story (Minority Report, for example), but with this film everything is pitch-perfect. It's beautifully done.

What are your thoughts on Munich?

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you, Ari, for the very kind words. Always very appreciated.

I agree, this is in my eyes one of Spielberg's most personal films, and everything about it just works from beginning to end for me. I'm still discovering nuance after nuance after having seen it quite a few times. It has actually become my must-see Christmas film every year since its release.

As for your question (I'm always humbled when someone asks me for my opinion on something), I'm an enormous fan of Munich. Which probably comes as little surprise. It seemed to be swallowed by political controversy when it was released, to a great extent, anyway. Munich is a different animal than all other Spielberg films in some ways, but in many ways I consider it his great summation. (In a way not unlike Catch Me If You Can, or A.I., or whichever film you or I wish to describe as an artistic apex.) There is a lot to chew on with that film. One day I'll probably write a review.

What are your thoughts on it, Ari?

And thanks for stopping by again, your company is always most enlightening and pleasant.

Ari said...

I agree on Munich. The ambition, the maturity, the complexity....it's one of the few Spielberg films that doesn't neatly tie everything up (which isn't necessarily a bad thing, Spielberg does that better than anyone). Maybe this is a bold statement, but I think Munich is his best film.

Alexander Coleman said...

A very bold statement indeed, Ari, but to be perfectly honest, I agree that it's certainly in the running for his greatest, boldest achievement to date. A huge part of me thinks it to be his best film ever as well, so we seem to be very much on the same page, Ari.

K. Bowen said...

I haven't seen all of this film, but what I've seen is my favorite Spielberg film of the decade - endearingly breezy with an interesting relationship at its core.

Munich is a clear example of Spielberg's biggest self-delusion - that he is a successful moral philosopher. He is a feeler and not a thinker, and that is the conceit that weakens too many of his best films (Schindler's, AI, Munich). When Spielberg starts moralizing, it's mainly to make himself look good.

Alexander Coleman said...

Well, obviously I don't agree about your latter point (except that Spielberg's cinema is very much a sensitive, feeling one) KB, but you state your case well. Thank you for the comment.

Catch Me If You Can is extremely breezy, and one of my favorite Spielberg films, and favorites of the decade.

I'd posit that Spielberg's "philosophy," if it is to be called such, is at its roots no more complicated or simplistic than most auteurs, and the consistency of theme in the face of both the heavily dark and frontally more philosophical or lightly effervescent and crowd-pleasing supersedes the conspectus of the films themselves. Of course, this is a intriguing discussion with divergent perspectives.

Do check out all of Catch Me If You Can, though, KB, I think you would like the entire film.

Sam Juliano said...

Certainly this is as comprehensive areview (on any film!) that one could write, but perhaps most impressive for a lighter work like this. Your showcasing of the film at this time of the year is most appropriate, as you rightly note "Christmas eve will be a recurring and important motif symbolizing hearth, home and family."
From the very beginning, when you assert that this film is a "personal picture" for Spielberg, and that he shows remarkable felicity for "time and place", you have embarked on an insightful discussion of its disperate elements, even to note that the seemingly innocuous procedings are tinged with the likes of "marked subversiveness and philosophical toiling."
Personally, I don't find CATCH ME IF YOU CAN to be Spielberg's "piece de resistance" or even remotely close to that, but I admire your audacity and exceptionally-argued case here. For me Spielberg has made four masterworks: SCHINDLER'S LIST, EMPIRE OF THE SUN, E.T., and A.I. But I am being unfair here in a sense, as I think you did later imply that (within its genre) this film reigned supreme, rather than something that should be compared to heavier works.
Importantly, you did note that this was a kind of "phony-but-true" autobiograhy and enriched that with that terrific "Personal Journey" link.
Certainly, the film contains one of DiCaprio's best performances (perhaps he may have eclipsed that with his searing turn in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD) but again its like comparing apples and oranges. He was marvelous in this comedic chase film.
I enjoyed your astute references to the traditional Spielberg homages: NORTH BY NORTHWEST, GOLDFINGER and CASINO ROYALE among them, as well as the lawful/unlawful connection with THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS and the mischivious strain in Truffaut's masterpiece, THE 400 BLOWS.
I also agree that the film contained a typically great contribution from cinematographer Janiusz Kaminski, and that the "low angle compositions suggested the "anonymity of America." And yes humanism is woven into the fabric of this gleefully entertaining film. Likewise, you were right to discuss Christopher Walken's characterand performance.

One of your absolute best.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you very much for the wonderfully thorough response, Sam. Very much appreciated, as always. I cannot add or detract to your eloquent appraisal of my piece, so I will only thank you.

W.T.R. said...

an exhaustive piece of film criticism by the young man with mad critical skillz. steven spielberg is a master and alexander has masterfully examined a master with this incisive and brilliant review. i am floored by your erudition here alexander. superb!

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you, W.T.R.

Pat said...

Alexander -

A great thoughtful piece, as usual. I'm an admirer of Spielberg myself, so it's always nice to find other critics who appreciate his work.

I would, however, just like to comment on your classification of "Catch Me if you Can" as a "phony but true autobiography."

Some time before the film was released, I attended a lecture by the real Abagnale (who now, ironically, works as a fraud consultant for some major banking and credit card companies.) He was absolutely clear that it was his anguish over his parents' divorce and his unwillingness to have to choose which parent to live with that drove him to leave home and start his life of deception and disguise. There was an awful lot of talk about fatherhood in Abagnale's talk -both about missing his own father and the importance of being a father to his own kids.

When I finally saw the film, I found it absolutely true both to the tone and the factual details of Abagnale's story as he himself told it. I don't believe that Spielberg refashioned Abagnale's life story to reflect his own penchant for stories of fractured families. Rather I think Abagnale and Spielberg were soulmates of a kind, and that Spielberg was the ideal director to get Abagnale's true life story on the screen.

Alexander Coleman said...

Pat, thank you for the comment.

I'm afraid a piece that runs nearly 2,700 words is likely to have at least one sentence in it that is not sufficiently clear. In this instance, I favored something that sounded snappy over sheer clarity.

Firstly, allow me to say that that sounds like a great experience, to have seen Frank Abagnale, Jr. in that setting discussing his life, and how the divorce of his parents impacted him.

I thought by writing the words, "phony but true autobiography," I would be making it clear that I was viewing it as Spielberg adopting Abagnale's story, as it were, and making statements about himself, his parents and his own life, and art, through Abagnale. Of course, I can completely see why this sentence would confuse anyone. The film is based on Abagnale's autobiographical book, the veracity of which seems to be very much sound. This is my fault for muddling the waters. Sorry! :)

As you so eloquently state, "Rather I think Abagnale and Spielberg were soulmates of a kind, and that Spielberg was the ideal director to get Abagnale's true life story on the screen."

I completely, unequivocally agree. Excellent and insightful comment as always, Pat! Happy New Year.

Pat said...

Or it could just have been me reading too fast and misinterpreting your phrase, Alexander.

At the time "Catch Me if You Can" was first released, a lot of critics carped that Spielberg had it made it be about "Daddy issues," instead of just making it fun. But the "Daddy issues" are true to the actual story. Obviously, though, you understand that.

I'll be back to read your reviews of "Doubt" and "Benjamime Button" as soon as I've seen those films myself. I'll be quite interested to compare thoughts.

Alexander Coleman said...

Yes, Spielberg's "Daddy issues," as they are often referred to are an instrinsic piece of his art and Catch Me If You Can probes them with great intensity here.

Though I analyzed the film through this and other loftier elements, I do think Catch Me If You Can is tremendous fun; it's simply a funny, brilliant joy to watch.

I look forward to your return once you have seen Doubt and Benjamin Button, Pat!

ben said...

My jaw is on the floor from reading this. I always saw this as a good, fun romp of a movie. You have opened up a totally new side of it to me. Incredible. I must see it again. Like right now.

Alexander Coleman said...

Well, I'm quite happy to see you found the review worthwhile, Ben. Thank you for the kind words. I hope you seek this out again and enjoy it.

Laura said...

What a vigorous and intelligent examination of Spielberg. Special work here Alexander.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you so much, Laura, I greatly appreciate the kind words. Good to hear from you again.

Jeff McMahon said...

A very nice piece of work, and fairly exhaustive. Thinking back on this one, I'd say that Catch Me is a more fully-developed film than its' 2002 counterpart, Minority Report, albeit about less 'weighty' subject matter. In a couple of decades, though, Catch Me will probably feel like the greater work.

I have to disagree with K. about 'moral philosophy' for the simple reason that the Spielberg movies that I think he's disparaging - Schindler's List, Amistad, Munich - are still predominantly about 'feeling' and how we cope with specific historical conundrums. Munich, specifically, is less about actual intellectual moral philosophizing than it is about Eric Bana's character coping with the weight of terrorism/spying/killing and the anguish it provokes within him - which is why the climactic sequence is as powerful as it is.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you for the kind words, and for reading and commenting here, Jeff.

I agree that ultimately Catch Me If You Can will continue to gain in esteem in the future.

And I agree with you that Spielberg's "heavy" historical dramas are still primarily about feeling, on multiple levels, perhaps, but they are more concerned with the innerworkings of the characters than making definitive statements about the issues they explore. Thanks again, Jeff.

Anonymous said...

Spectacular essay.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you, Anonymous.

Daniel Getahun said...

What W.T.R. and Ben said. I've really been wanting to see this again, and I agree that it doesn't feel nearly as long as it is.

Your declaration of DiCaprio's performance intrigues me. Every right to consider it his best, but what else would you consider strong? I'm actually finding myself quietly rooting for him to get some Oscar attention for RevRoad. I also think he's excellent in This Boy's Life and Gilbert Grape, as one-dimensional as they are, and believe it or not I still haven't seen The Basketball Diaries.

Alexander Coleman said...

Hi, Daniel! It's great to see you catching up here in Coleman's Corner. And thank you very much for the kind words.

Naturally, I do recommend this film to all! :)

As for DiCaprio, I like him in Gilbert Grape, though I've never believed it to be as difficult a role as many have called it. He's very effective in This Boy's Life, holding his own with Robert DeNiro (I read the book on which that film was based before seeing the film, and DiCaprio certainly captured the character's essence). Though I have problems with The Departed, I cannot deny that he is quite the force of nature in that one--it's easily his best "see, I'm a mature guy now who can be believable bad-ass," performance, his subsequent attempts at which were not so good. And, though I'm not a fan of Baz Luhrmann, I do think DiCaprio's Romeo was quite commendable, particularly for what the director was "going for," as they say.

chocolate lover said...

I've never seen this one! Thanks for the review! Nice blog.

Daniel Getahun said...

Yeah I have to say that I appreciated DiCaprio more in Blood Diamond than The Departed that year, though neither was mind-blowing.

Have you seen Revolutionary Road?

Alexander Coleman said...

Do seek it out, chocolate lover.

I agree about DiCaprio in The Departed (as I stated before) and even Blood Diamond, in which he was giving something of a "Bogart performance," the mercenary American who finally acts heroically against every piece of logical rationale. (Harrison Ford as Han Solo and Indiana Jones ironically helped to redefine the image of this archetype in my opinion.)

I have not seen Revolutionary Road yet, but I will in the coming days. What did you think of him there? (I'll be sure to look at your thoughts on that whenever I finally see it.)

Daniel Getahun said...

I thought he was brilliant, actually. Really fills out the role, but in hindsight his outbursts - which seemed to much at the time - are wrenching in mind. I'll be interested to hear what you think about all aspects of that movie. It's pretty rich.

Alexander Coleman said...

Well, I hope I like it, but as you may or may not know, I'm not a fan of American Beauty. So I'm going in with some skepticism. I'm happy to hear you found DiCaprio effective, though--that is most encouraging.

Daniel Getahun said...

Indeed, I didn't like American Beauty, either!

Alexander Coleman said...

Well, well! I believe we could all form a (very large) club. :)

chocolate lover said...

It was every thing you said it was. So glad I saw it finally. Amazing review.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you very much, chocolate lover. So glad to hear that you enjoyed the film (and review) so much.

Anonymous said...

Exhaustive and exceptional review of one of the more underrated movies of the last couple of decades.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you very kindly, Anonymous.

ll kool j said...

DiCap is smokin here. The Beard rocks dis movie yo. love it when he makes like 007 and zooms off in the AM ya dig.

Alexander Coleman said...

Yes, I "dig" your points, LL.

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Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you very much. I'm very happy to have you aboard.

Harold said...

Hugely impressive essay on this film, Alexander. I agree that it is a very underrated film and actually one of Spielberg's very best. Brilliant and provocaive piece I must say.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you very kindly, Harold.