Steven Spielberg is widely, and rightly, considered one of the best to ever do it. Going through his filmography, you could many cases for the best three-film stretch of his career eg. Hook, Jurassic Park, and Schindler’s List. But maybe a more left-field choice for the best three-film run in his illustrious career is; AI, Minority Report and Catch Me If You Can.
However, Catch Me If You Can almost looked very different… and almost wasn’t a Steven Spielberg film at all. Leonardo DiCaprio was attached before Spielberg, and it was originally going to be directed by Pirates of the Caribbean’s Gore Verbinski, with none other than Tony Soprano himself, James Gandolfini, in the role of FBI agent Carl Hanratty.
Gandolfini ended up having to drop out due to scheduling conflicts with The Sopranos. Catch Me If You Can is based on Frank Abagnale Jr’s memoir, which he claims is a true story. Abagnale Jr was a fraudster, imposter, and professional liar, therefore it is perhaps wise to doubt the truth of some of his tall tales.
The film depicts the cat-and-mouse game played between Hanratty and Abagnale, with a begrudging respect and eventually even friendship forming between the two men. The chemistry between cocky young DiCaprio and the seasoned everyman Hanks works extremely well in the movie, a relationship which may have been slightly different with Gandolfini in the role at the height of his Sopranos fame.
While it could have been a big drama, things worked out for the acclaimed drama movie in the end. Catch Me If You Can was nominated for two Oscars, including one for Christopher Walken, who played Abagnale’s father. And it rounded out one of the high points of Spielberg’s career.