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Movie Review: Catch Me If You Can

By Mike Everleth ⋅ January 14, 2003

I’ve noticed a trend lately. I don’t know if it’s a new trend or if it’s just something I’ve recently observed, but there seems to be a lot of violence towards women buried in seemingly innocuous entertainment.

This happens mostly in TV ads for movies I haven’t seen. For example, I’ve seen Brittany Murphy repeatedly hit in the face with a football and an airline stewardess bashed in the nose in ads for JUST MARRIED, as well as Rob Schneider beat up a teenage girl in THE HOT CHICK. I don’t know what’s up with JUST MARRIED, but I suppose Schneider is acting out an infantile revenge on all the girls who I would imagine rejected him in high school.

On the other end of the spectrum, I caught a special screening of THE GODFATHER the other night at L.A.’s Egyptian Theater. There’s a scene in that film where Connie Corleone (Talia Shire) gets the living shit beat out of her by her husband, the cowardly Carlo (Gianni Russo). Carlo whips Connie repeatedly with his belt and it’s absolutely horrific. I had to avert my eyes at the brutality at the scene.

So, when did it become socially acceptable to find the beating of women funny? I don’t care what kind of context anyone what’s to put a spin on it, as long as there’s domestic violence and rape I don’t think seeing women being hit by men should be considered “fun” entertainment.

In Steven Spielberg’s CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, no women are physically hurt or beaten. However, this film shows such utter contempt for women, I found it appalling.

A few years ago, I wrote a review of the documentary AMERICAN PIMP by the African-American Hughes brothers and described the film as “an act of cultural self-loathing.” I then explained that “an equivalent film would be if Steven Spielberg directed THE STINGY JEW.”

So far, Spielberg hasn’t made that film yet, but after such intensely special effects dependent movies like A.I.: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE and MINORITY REPORT, I suppose he decided to make a trifle, a piece of frothy entertainment that is CATCH ME IF YOU CAN. This is a film of little importance and no deep meaning, and in so doing Spielberg has crafted a movie that is neither a comedy nor a thriller nor a drama. It’s just there, breezing from the beginning to the end with all the nonchalance of a cool summer wind.

However, in the film, all the women are idiots, whores and/or both.

The movie is also based on the real life of Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio), a teenage con man who manipulates people into believing he’s either a substitute teacher, pilot, doctor or a lawyer. Since most of Frank’s marks are female, it’s a reasonable assumption that the real-life Frank Abagnale, at least during his scamming days, would hold women in low regard. Just give them a little flattery and they’ll tell a complete stranger how the entire banking system operates, for example.

But couldn’t Spielberg or screenwriter Jeff Nathanson have done a better job developing the female characters in the film? The closest to a strong female character is Frank’s mother (Nathalie Baye) who has the brains to leave her loser husband (Christopher Walken), but of course she has to have an illicit affair with his best friend (James Brolin) before she walks out the door.

What infuriated me the most, though, was the characterization of Frank’s fiancĂ©e, Brenda (Amy Adams). Spielberg isn’t the subtlest of directors and most scenes of CATCH ME IF YOU CAN are predictably over-scored, the most stirring strands of music playing over encounters between the father and son Franks.

Yet, when Brenda relates a startling sad story about having had an abortion and her resultant excommunication from her family, there isn’t any music playing within a mile of this scene, having the effect of trivializing a horrifically traumatizing event for the poor girl. As for any other scene with Brenda, Spielberg’s direction must have been to simply tell her to act as though she has the mental capacity of a five-year-old. Would it have been that difficult to make Brenda an actual human being instead of a giggly twit?

As for the rest of the women in the film, they’re either whores — e.g. Jennifer Garner — or bubbly-headed idiots. Why would dozens of college-educated women cry at the prospect of becoming stewardesses? There hasn’t been this bad a dehumanization of that career since THREE’S COMPANY went off the air.

But I’m sure that both Spielberg and Nathanson would have no clue that they have made such a gravely misogynistic film. In trying to capture the feel of a previous decade, they simply infused their work with typical sexist attitudes found in that time period. However, as modern filmmakers, they have a bigger responsibility than to repeat derogatory stereotypes without at least comment or notice.

For punishment, I sentence the director and screenwriter to be strapped to a chair with their eyelids peeled back, as in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, and be forced to watch NORMA RAE nonstop for two weeks straight.