Cut to the Chase

Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner. Tom and Jerry. Carl Hanratty and Frank Abagnale, Jr. It’s all about the chase.

Steven Spielberg’s confection, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, was based on Abagnale’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) true story as he cons his way across the globe, cashing more than $2.5 million in fraudulent checks, impersonating an airline pilot, a doctor, and an assistant district attorney (all before the age of nineteen), all the while pursued by FBI agent Hanratty (Tom Hanks).

Spielberg’s film was one of the most anticipated of the 2002 holiday season but many critics didn’t appreciate its light tone, the lengthy running time, or even its stars.  But the film goes down as smooth as a dry martini and is well-acted by DiCaprio, Hanks, and Christopher Walken as Frank’s sad-sack father.  John Williams’ pitch-perfect retro-jazzy score contributes greatly to the film’s sense of intrigue and fun.

Williams harkened back to his earlier jazz roots for the score and critics compared it to Henry Mancini. In an interview at the time with the Hollywood Reporter, Williams said,

The score that I’ve written…I hope it’s amusing–features some so-called progressive jazz elements dervied from the style that was popular in the ’50s and early ’60s…The film has functional comedic film music but with a doffing of the cap to the jazz greats of the era, all of which is done to re-create the ambiance of those years.

The delightful animated opening titles tell the entire story while the music’s “fizzy mood” gets things off “to a jaunty start.”  (Variety) The ever-approaching FBI is represented by an undulating xylophone and strings “closing in” theme, accompanied by a wily saxophone melody (played in the style of Charlie Parker) and finger snaps.

In a year that included MINORITY REPORT, the second STAR WARS prequel, and the second HARRY POTTER film, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN showed film score fans–and critics–that Williams could still surprise. Crafty and clever, Williiams’ score proves he’s still one hip dude.

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