Flash Gordon Left Me The Keys

The TEST OF ALL MOTHERS

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

 
"Catch Me If You Can" represents a distinct change of pace for director Steven Spielberg. This is a lighter movie than he has made in a long while, and you sense his relief that nothing much is at stake. "Catch Me" harkens back to movies made in the late '50s and early '60s. It's the age of innocence, before the counterculture, Watergate, all those other "gates" and international terrorism, a time when a kid could pull off con after con, fooling adults who should know better, because no one can imagine such deceit, and anyone can fake an ID and bluff his way around an airport.

The film pitches itself as a holiday movie with scenes of Christmas celebrations over the course of several years. Opening Christmas Day, the DreamWorks release should get off to a jolly start at the boxoffice. And the dream teaming of Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks gives the movie an added boost.

Jeff Nathanson's script is inspired by the story of Frank Abagnale, who as a runaway teen 40 years ago passed himself off as a teacher, airline pilot, doctor and lawyer over a five-year stretch, all the while cashing millions of dollars in fraudulent checks. The guy now works with the FBI, having become one of the world's foremost experts in fraud, forgery and embezzlement.

"Catch Me" sets the story up as a cat-and-mouse game between Frank and FBI agent Carl Hanratty, a composite of several agents who worked the case. DiCaprio, looking ever so boyish as Frank, stumbles into his life of crime in reaction to the trauma of his parents' divorce. He is fast-thinking and pleasure-addicted during the five-year joy ride that features the best of clothes and all the women he can handle. On the other hand, Hanks' Hanratty is a dour, humorless divorcee who gets his clothes cleaned at the Laundromat, has no family or social life and takes himself way too seriously. Adding to his surly nature, every time he closes in on Frank, his prey gives him the slip, turning him into the live-action equivalent of Wile E. Coyote.

Initially, Frank dons the uniform of a Pan Am pilot simply to cash checks. As his skills in check fraud increase, Frank realizes he can travel free on other airlines as a "deadhead" passenger. Soon he is jetting around the country.

When Hanratty picks up the scent, Frank switches professions twice, acquiring a thrilled fiancee in Amy Adams' Brenda and a job as assistant DA from an equally thrilled future father-in-law, Martin Sheen's New Orleans district attorney. Frank fakes these professions, or so the movie would have you believe, by glancing at TV shows about lawyers and doctors and being a quick study in jargon and professional demeanor.

Spielberg and his production team outfit these comic adventures with the slightly stylized look of late-'50s movies. A nifty cartoon opening-credit sequence with a jazzy, Mancini-influenced score by John Williams leads to cinematographer Janusz Kaminski's bright, hazy colors and Mary Zophres' suave wardrobes.

The only notes of drabness come when Frank's father, wonderfully played by Christopher Walken, occupies the screen. A man who achieves success only to see it disintegrate when the IRS comes after him, Frank Sr. is a broken man whose fate goads Frank Jr. to action. His French-born wife, played by Nathalie Baye, flees that drabness into the arms of a more successful businessman (James Brolin), creating a further provocation to her son's criminal career. These episodes are as close as the movie cares to get to psychological insight.

While the film is briskly paced, it nevertheless runs long. Inspired by a true-life tale, the filmmakers evidently hated to leave out any juicy bits. It's an understandable failing given the supremely unlikely early life of Frank Abagnale.


 
It was a case of "catch them if you can" as hordes of fans gathered outside the premiere of Leonardo DiCaprio's new movie, all hoping to get a glimpse of their favourite stars.

Director Steven Spielberg was joined by Christopher Walken, Juliette Lewis, Martin Sheen, Tom Hanks and of course Leo, at the event in Los Angeles.

Catch Me If You Can is the story of Frank Abagnale Jr, who at the age of just 17 became the youngest person ever to be placed on the FBI's most wanted list. The con-artist went on a five-year crime spree, during which he passed millions of dollars' worth of bad cheques, before police finally caught up with him.

"He saw the banks and the IRS systematically break down his father’s spirit. It’s like a revenge story in a lot of ways," says DiCaprio. "He went out to attack the big corporations."

Tom Hanks plays the agent who pursued Abagnale across the country as he repeatedly changed identities, taking on the personas of airline pilot, doctor, assistant attorney general and history professor. Ironically, the FBI later helped him get out of prison early on condition that he go to work for them.

The accomplished criminal himself was also in attendance. Nowadays he tours the world lecturing on how to prevent the very crimes he so ingeniously committed.




 
LOS ANGELES — Leonardo DiCaprio is finally returning to the big screen two years after "The Beach" washed out of theaters, and his Hollywood pals turned out Monday night to catch a glimpse of it.

The "Titanic" star has two massively anticipated movies rolling out this month — the Martin Scorsese epic "Gangs of New York" on December 20 and, a few days later, Steven Spielberg's "Catch Me If You Can," which also stars Tom Hanks.

Spielberg, Hanks, co-stars Jennifer Garner and Christopher Walken, along with Gary Busey, Martin Sheen and "Red Dragon" director Brett Ratner all hit the red carpet Monday night for the movie's premiere. (Click for photos from the red carpet.)

Based on the memoirs of a guy who, as a teenager, evaded the FBI while forging checks and pretending to hold various jobs, "Catch Me If You Can" had the crowd at the Mann's Bruin Theater talking about the reemergence of the film's 28-year-old leading man.

"He's such a good actor," said Garner, who plays a prostitute in the film. "I mean, he's always been such a good actor, and that's the way we thought of him until 'Titanic.' And now we all just think he's such a big movie star. But in reality, he's a movie star because he's a good actor."

"Well, I'm a biased director, [but] I think ['Catch Me If You Can'] is the most brilliant performance of his career," Spielberg said. "I mean, not since '[What's Eating] Gilbert Grape' have I seen him act this well, because he plays many different characters in the movie."

Hanks gushed similarly, declaring, "Leo is the hardest working, most intelligent actor I've ever come across."

"Catch Me If You Can" hits theaters December 25, five days after "Gangs of New York."

For more on DiCaprio, check out "Cameo: Kelly Rowland Interviews Cameron Diaz & Leonardo DiCaprio."

For more Hollywood happenings, check out MTV's Movie House




 
The stars took flight -- Access Hollywood style -- at the premiere of Catch Me If You Can. From Tom Hanks to Steven Spielberg and Leonardo DiCaprio, we flew first class all the way!

It was time to stow your tray table and cross check as Access Hollywood's "stewardesses" escorted Hollywood's finest to the first-class section of their Catch Me If You Can premiere.

When asked about her role as a "hooker with a heart" in the film, Jennifer Garner told Access: "It's Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio, what could be better?"

DiCaprio's arrival created quite the crowd frenzy, but because he was feeling under the weather, Leo chose to fly under the radar and bypass all interviews.

However, Leo's co-star Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson stopped to talk with Access Hollywood's Pat O'Brien. This year, besides starring in Catch Me and Road to Perdition, Tom also co-produced with Rita the smash hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding. And with the Golden Globe nominations being announced on Dec. 19, it's possible the Hanks household could receive multiple nods. Tom was typically modest. "I predict 'also ran' status for yours truly, but that's all right."

Pat informed Jennifer Garner about the nominations. "The announcements come out on Thursday? Oh, why did you tell me that. I was ignorant to it – now I'm nervous."

Though Access got Catch Me co-star Garner worried about following up her Alias win last year, there's great news for her fans. Alias has landed the coveted time slot after the Super Bowl on Jan. 26. "We are so excited. We shot the biggest explosion we have ever shot on Alias. There was this huge mushroom cloud and Ethan Hawke is the guest star. He said, 'This is like a movie. I've never worked with an explosion that big.'"

Catch Me's cast is a veritable acting all-star team, with stellar performances from Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen. "Working with Steven Spielberg is like being in a Super Bowl, for me it's a dream come true," said Sheen.

And basking in the glow of his moment was the real Catch Me man, Frank Abagnale. "It's really me, I didn't clone anybody," laughed Frank.



 
Steven Spielberg's new cinematic triumph "Catch Me If You Can" was given its premiere public screening Friday night at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The screening was part of a weekend long tribute to the work of Christopher Walken, who was on hand to discuss his fantastic work in the film.

I was expecting a catchy, entertaining piece of work from Mr. Spielberg this time around, based primarily on the sharply cut, thoroughly delightful trailer that's been recently making the rounds. It turns out that I got more, much more than I bargained for. "Catch" is another testament to the effortless mastery of moviemaking that Spielberg possesses; the pleasures here are rich and varied, and while some viewers will be more than happy to simply sit back and delight at the exploits of the film's teen age con man extraordinaire, others will be moved by the tinge of sadness and despair that weaves its way into his story.

"Catch Me" is the story of Frank Abagnale, who grows up in a loving home seeking the approval of his dad who, as portrayed with great ferocity by Christopher Walken, has more than a few problems of his own. The parent's marriage slowly falls apart, and when Frank is forced to face the nasty truth about his family he escapes, literally assuming the identities of people he imagines his father would approve of, if only they were real. The reality is that Frank cons everyone so convincingly that he eventually travels the world in high style, impersonating a commercial airline pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer, all by the age of 19, cashing forged checks and living it up with plenty of wine, women and song, while constantly on the run from the feds. But however great the deception, Frank's exploits are a futile attempt at repairing his broken home.

Seeking the approval of a father who fails to see Frank's despair, another father figure takes shape in the form of FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks, solid as ever), a man who develops a bond with the young man he's relentlessly tracking. Can Carl help Frank learn to stop running from the world and face up to the demons in his life? And can Frank stop running once he's reached the point where there appears to be no turning back, no matter how many people he's hurting? The fun is finding the answers in life's little details, and Spielberg delivers these telling moments effortlessly and with aplomb, providing plenty of laughs while exploring Frank's alienation and resentment of his messed up home life.

It's up to Leonardo DiCaprio to pull us through Frank's story, and he does a compelling job of showing us both the cocky, self assured con man, and the scared, broken hearted boy lurking somewhere inside. Tom Hanks really sinks his teeth into the initially bewildered Fed, and Christopher Walken does some of his best work ever as Frank's charismatically flawed father.

Spielberg perfectly captures the mood and time of the 60's, and the picture has several classic sequences, including a dazzling opening title sequence that sets time and place beautifully (reminiscent of Saul Bass's best work), a fabulous melding of current and vintage footage (Frank is humorously portrayed as a guest on "To Tell The Truth" and it looks absolutely real), and a dizzying sequence showing Frank distracting the Feds in the Miami Airport with the help of some Stewardesses in training. Another hilarious bit revolves around a financial arrangement made by a high class call girl (Jennifer Garner) to Frank, leading to a double deception that is truly inspired and laugh out loud funny.

I reveal nothing by explaining it's revealed in the opening moments that Frank will be captured. One of the joys of the film is that despite this knowledge and the movie's flashback structure , we never feel sure where the story is headed to next. Eventually Frank understands the damage he's inflicting on himself and those he loves. It's a dilemma that eats away at him, and he looks to agent Hanratty for help, sort of. I haven't mentioned Hanks too much, but he is so strong here and it brings me great joy to see him willingly take the secondary character (make no mistake, Leo is in nearly every frame and it is ultimately his show). He's a fantastic foil to Leonardo, and when Leo runs one final time, his conversation with Hanks in an airport terminal is simply fabulous; sincere, but not cloyingly so; it feels real, and the actors sell the moment completely. There's great work here by both actors.

"Catch Me If You Can" is a great ride. And Spielberg himself has had quite a year. The expectations placed on the man by the critical community are ridiculous. Both "A.I." and "Minority Report" were harshly criticized for their length and the belief that the endings were unnecessary and self indulgent (I disagree, especially with "Minority Report"). The ending of Catch could suffer the same ignorant bashing; I hope not, because Spielberg is saying something in the film's coda about crime, celebrity, and the American way that elevates the film to a greater level. The bottom line is this: If any other filmmaker released two films of the quality of "Minority Report" and "Catch Me If You Can" in the same year, they would be anointed the new king of Hollywood, the Oscar Nominations would be reigning down on them, and you'd never hear the end of it (think Soderbergh of late). It's a testament to Spielberg's greatness that these films don't get the kudos they so justly deserve. I can't think of a more wildly entertaining experience at the movies this year than "Minority Report," and now here comes "Catch," which is the most fun you'll have at the movies all winter long. Congrats all around.



 
The movie succeeds by not digging too deep into anyone's tortured psyche.
Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can, from a screenplay by Jeff Nathanson, based on the book by Frank M. Abagnale with Stan Redding, turns out to be that rarity of rarities, a mainstream American feel-good movie with both charm and intelligence. If it hadn't been shot in 140 locations in and around Los Angeles, New York, Montreal and Quebec City, we might surmise that much-maligned Hollywood was making a comeback.

After a long absence from the screen, if not the scandal sheets, Leonardo DiCaprio plays a real-life con artist who in the 60's led the F.B.I. and police forces in several countries on a merry chase while cashing millions of dollars in bogus checks and impersonating a high-school teacher, an airline pilot, a pediatrician and an assistant district attorney--all before he was 21 years old.

Mr. DiCaprio's Frank is pursued relentlessly by Tom Hanks' also-real-life F.B.I. check-fraud specialist, Carl Hanratty. But theirs is hardly an implacable Jean Valjean-Inspector Javert relationship.

Increasingly, as the chase and pace quicken, Hanratty develops an almost paternal interest in Frank, who has been emotionally devastated by his parents' divorce--his father, Frank Abagnale Sr. (Christopher Walken), has split from his unfaithful French wife, Paula (Nathalie Baye), after Frank Sr.'s business is driven into bankruptcy by unpaid taxes.

This back story, along with his being spectacularly underaged and undereducated for the scope and audacity of his frauds and deceptions, makes Frank an unusually sympathetic white-collar criminal. Not that Hanratty lacks a somewhat sentimental back story of his own: With his divorced wife and his little girl both living far away, the good-humored Hanratty joins a long line of movie lawmen whose demanding and dangerous occupations place their marriages at high risk.

The parallel dysfunctions of Frank and Hanratty would make Catch Me If You Can seem more formulaic than it is were it not for the movie's smoothly edited backward-and-forward chronological movement in ever-shifting locales. The movie also has a nice feel for pop tunes that are decades older than the plot's supposed 1960's time-frame, and that niceness extends to Mr. DiCaprio's tender amiability with fragile Brenda Strong (played by Amy Adams), whom Frank courts through the braces on her teeth. Mr. DiCaprio's faux-naïve Frank is even passive enough to allow Jennifer Garner's high-priced Cheryl Ann to swindle herself with his fraudulently certified checks. But everything potentially unpleasant and misogynous is done once over lightly to remove the sting for the audience. In these expressionistically dark times for movies, Mr. Spielberg and his collaborators have fashioned a light, virtually painless entertainment by not digging too deep into anyone's tortured psyche, despite showing us Mr. DiCaprio's occasionally tearful breakdowns, which are kept mercifully brief. You'd think I didn't like the movie from the way I'm writing about it, but I'm simply responding to a measured professionalism in big-star showcasing that reminds me of the kind of simple, uncomplicated pleasures that were once routine in one's moviegoing, but are now too often buried under tons and tons of production values and special effects.

Mr. Spielberg and Walter F. Parkes, the film's producers, have been quoted as saying that the 60's was an ideal era for a con man like Abagnale to function. As the production notes would have it, both Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Parkes attribute at least some of Abagnale's success to the innocence of the times: "I think it was the naïveté of those days that allowed Frank to get away with what he did for so long."

Mr. Spielberg adds, "It was a time of tremendous trust, when you never locked your doors, but felt safe." Innocent? Safe? The 1960's? I seem to recall that America "lost its innocence" in that decade with the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., not to mention the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention over the Vietnam War. It's getting to be a pattern. First we're told, in Far from Heaven, that the 50's were dull and innocent; now Mr. Spielberg adds the 60's to the list. I wonder what people will say in the future about the 90's, when so many people floated around in the dot-com bubble.

The point is that America has never been all that innocent to begin with, and one is more ignorant than innocent to believe otherwise. Not that I would prefer an angst-ridden film of the "real" 60's from Mr. Spielberg and his collaborators to the Christmas chocolate samples he has bestowed on us. In this instance, ignorance is bliss--particularly when two such talented and charismatic authority figures as Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen get into the escapist spirit of the project, as Frank's zestfully pathetic loser of a father and Frank's comically gullible father-in-law-to-be, respectively.

Ultimately, I enjoyed finding it all hard to believe, and then being told it was all true, at least sort of. Nathalie Baye is wasted as a shallow slut of a wife and mother, but American filmmakers have never been able to handle the worldly-wise great French actresses.




 
Every reporter puts on his professional face when doing interviews but deep down inside, when they get a chance to face off with somebody they’ve idolized or looked up to in the past, there’s a little part of him that just wants to sit there and pick his brain.

Such was the case when I got a chance to sit next to Steven Spielberg at the roundtables for “Catch Me If You Can,” which was a once in a lifetime opportunity because Spielberg rarely participates in roundtable interviews. While I got a chance to ask him a question at the “Minority Report” press conference last summer, there was something unnerving about him sitting right next to me. I don’t think there’s a single soul in my generation that didn’t grow up fascinated by his films. Whether it’d be “Jaws,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “E.T.,” or “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” there is little debate to whether he’s artfully put together some of the most memorable films in Hollywood. He will forever be remembered as one of the greatest directors in film history.

Despite his Academy Awards and worldwide recognition, Spielberg still manages to find time for humor. He commented on the “South Park” episode that spoofs both him and George Lucas. “I loved it, it was so great. George Lucas sent it to me and said ‘You got to see it, it’s amazing.’ I watched it with my kids and my kids loved it. I called George back and said ‘George, they got one thing wrong.’ And George said, ‘What’s that?’ And I said, ‘It’s usually YOU saying to ME ‘Stop Steven! Turn around Steven, do what I say!’’ And they gave me the power over you, and I said, ‘Man I love that so much. I never had the power over you.’”

So after so many movies underneath his belt, what kind of project does he still seek to direct? “Something that I’ve never seen before, something that grabs me. If anybody else made this movie, I’d be first in line to see it. That’s just kind of like the simple reasons that grab me to make a movie. I just love it when I’m surprised by a story and I don’t see the surprise coming at me [and] I’m always fooled. I’m talking about stories I don’t generate myself and stories that are sent to me.”

This Christmas, Steven releases his second film this year, “Catch Me If You Can,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. “Catch Me If You Can” tells the true-life story of Frank Abagnale Jr., who between the ages of 16 and 19, successfully disguised himself as a pilot, doctor, and lawyer and was able to cash millions of dollars in fraudulent checks in all 50 states and 27 countries.

After two futuristic films, “A.I.” and “Minority Report,” Steven commented on the difficulties of having to do a film based on a real-life story. “Your limitation is the fact that you’re telling a story that really happened. I wanted to get all the scams right, the way Frank perpetrated them, so all the scams are very accurate. But I couldn’t embellish the scams and the reason why I couldn’t embellish the scams is because I don’t have the imagination that he did. As a fiction director, I never could’ve dreamt up how he always eluded the FBI. I just think his true-life exploits are beyond the limits of my own imagination to have fictionized any better than what he acted in his life.”

Earlier, the real Frank Abagnale Jr. told press members at a seminar that Steven did not want to meet him initially. Steven revealed that this separation allowed him to put in his own work. “I felt that it was a good thing that I didn’t meet him so I can do my first rewrite with Jeff just based on bringing some of my own touchstones of my own life, like my parents’ divorce into this,” he mentioned. “But after I met him, we began writing more scenes that he told us happened to him that we put in the movie. We probably have 30% more scams in the movie having met Frank. By then, we were able to continue the process of creating his life story.”

Having Steven add to Frank’s story was an important emotional anchor for the movie. Frank’s autobiography did not dive too much into his parents’ divorce, which Steven believes was the key factor regarding Frank’s initial crime spree. “I don’t think I would have told the story had the family not been the key motivation that made this boy run away from home and then try to find a place for himself in the lonely world. I really think the divorce motivated everything. In real life, he never saw his father again after he ran away from home. But every night, he would be alone in the hotel room in the middle of the country. He would lie in bed at night with tears in his eyes thinking about his dad who he loved dearly and fantasizing about having his mother and father someday come back together again, and perhaps he can earn the respect from the things he was doing. He told me those stories which justified how much more work we did in keeping Chris Walken’s character further into the second act with the Frank character sending postcards home and meeting his dad in that great restaurant scene. That was one of the extensions of realities that we brought to it.”

He went on to add that Frank had no reservations about expanding on the real-life divorce. “He said every single scene about he and his father even passed where he actually ended his relationship with his father is exactly what he felt and what he yearned for. So he loved those scenes [because] it was wishful filming for him.”

To portray Frank, Steven also admitted that there was little work for him to do because Leonardo DiCaprio made his job easier. “Leo studied Frank. Leo hung out with Frank Abagnale. He just did a study of him and learned the handshake and [to] never take your eye off your mark. And the smile is very important too; that’s best illustrated when Leo goes to the bank and just ask the young teller out to a steak dinner. That was pure Abagnale. So Leo didn’t need much guidance from me because he got all the clues about how to carry himself physically from the actual man. Luckily, this wasn’t a story that took place 100 years ago; we had Frank in our company helping us tell the story well. My job to Leo just came, as a director, I just modulated his performance.”

So did Steven ever pull any quick schemes or cons as a kid? “Not as a kid so much, I couldn’t pull wool over my mom’s eyes because she was really sharp. I couldn’t get away with anything with her. Once you realize you can’t full your parents, you don’t try it anymore. I wasn’t fooling anybody.” He went on to reveal that one little trick he did probably helped his career as a future Hollywood director. “The closest I came to perpetrating an Abagnale scam was when I was, out of desire to be a movie director, 16 and just kind of walked onto the Universal lot dressed as an executive. I’d wave to the guard and he’d wave back and I was allowed on the lot every day for three months during my summer vacation from high school. That’s the biggest larceny of my life.”

So what’s with audience’s fascination with con artists? “I think we all share a little bit of larceny inside of us. We all fantasize about ‘Gee, could I do that?’ ‘Man, look at the byproduct of what he did and all those pretty girls.’ I just think that Robin Hood is a classic example of the romantic anti-hero, the one who robs from the rich and gives to the poor. Some of the greatest movies ever made have been made about people on the shadowy side of the law like ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,’ ‘Bonny and Clyde,’ James Cagney in ‘White Heat’ and again, Newman and Redford in ‘The Sting.’ We don’t really want to become those people but we want to admire their nerve.”

Despite the film’s subject matter about a youngster getting in trouble, Steven feels that it’s a movie he can watch with his kids. “So far the only project I’ve made that my kids can see in the last 10 years is ‘Catch Me If You Can.’ And my kids can’t believe that in their first time in their memory – suddenly my kids are able to see a movie in a theater with me, and that’s great. I’m so excited about that aspect of it.”

After two consecutive movies that elicited a dark feeling and mood, Steven revealed that perhaps “Catch Me If You Can” will be a turning point in his filmmaking career. “I made kind of a big change philosophically in ‘Schindler’s List’. I made both ‘The Color Purple’ and ‘Emprie of the Sun’. Those were stepping stones. Without those films, I would have never been able to make ‘Schindler’s List’. After ‘Raiders,’ ‘E.T.’ and ‘Close Encounters’ I got into the more serious subjects which sort of changed my life. The entire 90s, I think I spent doing historical movies like ‘Amistad,’ ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and ‘A.I.’ and ‘Minority Report’ are kind of dark futuristic visions of the scary stuff that awaits all of us. So maybe with ‘Catch me If you can’ I get a chance to reinvent myself.”

“Catch Me If You Can” opens in theaters Christmas Day.



 
All right, my gossipy guns, it's time to do an about-famous-face. A tad in the in the opposite kinda mood, klieg-light style, 24 hours later, was an equally celebrated bunch.

In fact, it was nearly impossible to catch the elusive Leonardo DiCaprio at Monday night's stormy premiere of Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can. Held at the Mann Village Theater in Westwood, the low-key Leo fest was still a thrill.

Ducking underneath the massive tents erected to hold the torrential rain at bay, L.DiC. scurried in surrounded by a Dubya-load of helpers, guards and security.

Dressed in a dark suit and bright blue shirt, Leo-babe mugged for a few photo ops with barely a smile on his semi-sullen puss. Perhaps the drops had drenched his radiant mood? It hardly mattered, as the two hottest couples on the blue carpet, Tom Hanks & Rita Wilson and Jennifer Garner & Scott Foley, more than made up for Leo's shy ways.

The Alias babe was looking simply sensaysh in a cleavage-baring mahogany dress, with the best accessory on her toned arm--hubby S.F. The cutie couple kept a tight hold on each other while J.G. awed the press with her adorable smile.

"Tell me," I asked the Catch costar, "Everyone is dying to know how was it kissing Leo?"

"It was all pretty massive," she heartily admitted (and rather quickly, too, considering her hubby was within smoochshot). "In fact, I don't even know what to tell you!"

Sure she did. It's just that Scott's smile (smart move on his part) put a bit of a damper on the vamper, I'd venture.

And though Tom didn't wet his lips with Leo's, I figured he might be able to get to the bottom of the cache that is Leo the Legend.

"Explain, please."

"Judging from my perspective," Hanks said as he crossed his arms over his sleek-suited-up bod, "He has a vast amount of intelligence and huge amount of perspective on who he is and what he wants."

Ah, as Mr. H. was in one of his more Tinseltown scholarly moods (he ain't always, I can tell ya that much), I next asked the double Oscar winner to elucidate the genius that is Steven Spielberg.

"You know what?" T.H. said, almost believably. "I don't know if that's definable." He added with furrowed brow, "I think the chromosomes mixed in a certain way."

"Hmmm. To what results, Professor Hanks?"

"He operates faster than most human beings can think," enucleated T.H. "I don't know what the genius is, but I stand back in awe of it--and hope that he drags me kicking and screaming along every now and again."

"Perhaps he's just the man to make Bosom Buddies: The Movie?"

"Oh, God," he chuckled with delight. "Isn't the world waiting for that?"

Are you kidding? Oscar number three's written all over it.



 
Gotcha! 4 stars

Gotcha! “Catch Me If You Can” will grab you. Steven Spielberg’s latest is one his finest movies to date and one of the five best of 2002. If this intelligent, rollicking movie doesn’t receive some Oscar nods, then justice does not exist. We first meet Frank Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he waits, sick and filthy, in a French prison for FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) to extradite him to the United States. The movie is told mostly in a flashback which catches up to, then extends beyond, the prison setting. Frank is just a teen-ager, but he’s a wily one. We first meet Frank and his family (Dad, Christopher Walken; and Mom, Nathalie Baye) at a time when they seem to be quite happy together. But problems develop, and Frank, broken-hearted and confused, literally tries to run away from his troubles at home. Frank has learned from his father that confidence and appearance can mean everything, and he takes that lesson to extremes. Alone, friendless, and without a job, Frank decides that there’s nothing like a uniform to convince people that you’re a real hotshot. He pretends to be an airline pilot, and, with a combination of good lucks, charm, bravado and sheer luck, he manages to convince everyone else that he’s a pilot, too. He needs to make a living, of course, and what better way to become wealthy than to create and cash phony checks? It’s not long before Carl knows that something is going on -- he senses that this is a huge case. And Carl becomes fascinated with the unsub (unknown subject) who so cleverly is bilking thousands, perhaps millions, from corporations around the country. As Carl begins to pursue the mystery criminal, a cat-and-mouse game develops, with each man developing a certain respect for the other. The contrast between the two is wonderful to see, with the clever, seemingly devil-may-care Frank taunting the somber, no-nonsense Carl. There’s not a casting error or a single misstep along the way. Spielberg outdoes himself by proving over and over that nobody can frame a shot or focus audience attention on detail like Spielberg can. In one subtle but outstanding scene, there’s an overhead shot of crowd bustling along. But all the viewer will notice is the white cap of Frank the “pilot.” This show deserves some notice. Go after it. Running time: Two hours and 20 minutes. Rated: PG-13 for foul language and sexual situations. Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Nathalie Baye, Amy Adams, James Brolin, Brian Howe, Frank John Hughes and Jennifer Garner. Director: Steven Spielberg. Screenwriter: Jeff Nathanson, based on the book “Catch Me If You Can” by Frank Abagnale with Stan Redding. P.S. Bond fans should take note of a poolside nod to “Goldfinger.”

I was just discussing the no GANGS nom for Leo with another Leofan this morning. She was very disappointed too about Leo not getting a nom when everyone else did. I think that the Foreign Press felt that he OWNS CMIYC - it's all Leo in that movie and it's success hinges completely on his performance. Quite frankly he will either make or break it and obviously he MAKES IT in a big way. They wanted to reward him for that. The chances of them giving an actor two noms in the same category would be pretty slim so they choose the one they think is more deserving in their eyes (of course this is just a guess on my part). They obviously think he's worthy of a nomination for his work in both movies this year and I do think his performance in CMIYC will be considered one of his best for a long time to come. I really don't think it takes anything away from his performance in GANGS. It might be hard to understand knowing how hard he worked - during the shoot and promoting the pic as well as what he put into it, including his own money, but if the movie does well and gets lots of awards, especially for Marty, I really think he will be thrilled. BTW I don't think that no nom for CMIYC as Best Picture is a precursor for the Oscars. There is no doubt that this movie will be a phenomenal success and since the Oscar noms don't come out until after it's been in theaters for a while, I think it will have huge momentum going into the Oscars and I think there's an excellent chance Leo will be included in those noms too!!



 
Frank W. Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio), the wunderkind con artist of Steven Spielberg's Catch Me if You Can, decks himself out in the dark, pressed suit and gold-brimmed cap of a U.S. commercial copilot, planning to cash a series of counterfeit airline checks. Yet the entire world gawks at him as if he really were a struttingly tall and handsome pilot, and Frank, without money, a job, or a high school diploma, is as happy as a kid in a Halloween costume. The moment he's in that uniform, the girls swoon, the bank tellers fork over the bills, and even his ''fellow'' pilots barely look up before inviting him to strap himself into the cockpit. It's 1964, when air travel still had a swankily exotic air of future-world sexiness, and Frank has learned a valuable and ticklish lesson: You are what you look -- and act -- like.

''Catch Me if You Can'' is based on the exploits of the real Frank W. Abagnale, who cashed some $2.5 million in fraudulent checks, eluding the clutches of the FBI by taking on a series of false identities. In addition to passing himself off as a flyboy, he pretended to be a doctor, a lawyer, and a college professor, and the fact that he did it all between the ages of 16 and 21 is as funny as it is remarkable. DiCaprio, though 27 when the film was shot, has just the right touch of baby-cheeked deadpan innocence to make you believe in the schemes of this eager boy grifter.

Why, exactly, does Frank turn into a roving charlatan? The movie, in a variation on a perennial Spielberg theme, presents him as a child of divorce who goes into free fall. Frank, though, is also a chip off the old block, inheriting -- and refining -- the self-destructive huckster spirit of his father (a scampish Christopher Walken). In a terrific scene, Frank grabs his bank-check machine and talks his way right out from under the nose of Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks), a workaholic FBI agent who is wired so tight that he can't see what's standing smack-dab in front of him. It's a relief, after Hanks' funereal torpor in ''Road to Perdition,'' to see him having this much fun playing a law enforcer this dweebishly obsessed (the actor sports one of the few note-perfect New England accents in movie history). The two characters spend the rest of the film locked in a cat-and-mouse game marked by a ritual Christmas Eve phone call.

Like all outlaw capers, ''Catch Me if You Can'' celebrates the amoral pluck of its hero. The film's most distinctive quality, however, 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. For all that, the movie starts to grow thin and a little repetitive. When Frank flirts his way into the arms of Brenda (Amy Adams), a candy striper in braces, convincing her to marry him, this interpersonal scam -- or is it? -- has no more weight than any of his others. The film's charm ends up worn out by the very perfection of Frank's con. We look at this teen wizard of rotating identity, and we realize we know everything about him except who he is.



 
Plenty of women have thrown themselves at Leonardo DiCaprio, but Amy Adams got her throwing orders from director Steven Spielberg.

The actress, who made her feature-film debut playing a cheerleader in the 1999 dark comedy "Drop Dead Gorgeous," plays DiCaprio's love interest in "Catch Me If You Can," opening Wednesday.

DiCaprio stars as Frank Abagnale Jr., a teenage con man who defrauded companies of millions and posed as a pilot, a doctor and a lawyer before getting caught. Adams plays Brenda Strong, a candy-striper at a hospital where Abagnale falls in love with her and poses as a doctor.

"I envisioned this very sort of almost intimate moment," Adams said by telephone recently, referring to the scene in the film when she first displays her passion for Frank. "When Steven's like, 'I have this idea. Brenda's a little boy-crazy. I want you to just launch onto him. Can you climb onto his lap? How much room is in this chair?' I'm thinking, you want me to climb on him? And Steven's like, 'I want you to climb on him and really kiss him and then we're going to lean him back in the chair.' "

After that, all Adams could think about was that she was going to accidentally "kill Leo. I'm going to smash his head. They made it very safe. I, of course, was worried about damaging the star of the film. I'm so glad he shot it that way. I thought it lent so much humor to that moment. To get to see Leo with his hair mussed up was so much fun."

And how nice was he? The star of "Titanic," "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" and "The Quick and the Dead" obliged with autographs for "younger girls who worked with me in theater, who told me when I moved to Los Angeles, if I ever met Leonardo DiCaprio, I just had to get his autograph." At the time, she said she thought, "Oh, yeah, sure, when I meet Leo."

A Colorado native, Adams did some theater work there, and after graduating from high school, moved to Minnesota, where she found more regional theater work in musicals as a dancer.

She got into theater through dance. "Then I discovered acting, and really loved to act."

While making "Drop Dead Gorgeous" in Minnesota, Kirstie Alley, the star with Kirsten Dunst, suggested to Adams that she move to California. Since that 1999 debut, she's had roles in a television project, "Cruel Intentions 2: Manchester Prep," the movies "Serving Sara," "Psycho Beach Party" and "Pumpkin," and TV guest roles, including "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

The perky actress wasn't expecting to get the role opposite DiCaprio. "I'd auditioned for big films before, and gotten close, but they typically went with someone who had a better reputation and more work under their belt. I think it worked to my advantage because I was more relaxed and I was able to really focus on the character."

She describes Spielberg as a director who is very "excited and very passionate. His intensity comes across as enthusiasm and focus. And you never feel like there's any pressure to get it right. Each take is an opportunity to find something new."

Preparing for her role didn't require immersing herself in something that was foreign to her, either.

"I was a teenage girl. I did a lot of research as a teenager."

But she's not one anymore. "I'm that ambiguous mid-20s Hollywood age."


 
Ebert: With "Catch Me If You Can," the story of a kid who passes for a doctor and an airline pilot--you personally lived this story, didn't you, because you were putting on a suit and tie and walking onto the studio lot at Universal when you were 16 years old?

Spielberg: Yeah, just about. I think a little bit less than 16. And I did that for a whole summer during my high school vacation.

Ebert: And every single day you were in violation of the law?

Spielberg: Pretty much so. I was trespassing. There were a number of books they could have thrown at me if they had caught me, but they never caught me

Ebert: Leonardo DiCaprio is 28 in life, and can look 28 or even older, actually, but he can also look like a high schooler. Is that one of the reasons you cast him? Because he could make that jump in age?

Spielberg: I didn't know how much we could stretch the age but when he'd comb the bangs over the forehead and he wore the collegiate kind of sweater and he effected a whole different posture of bending over, being very humble, and his voice rose, he was able to step into that character and be totally convincing.

Ebert: I guess De Niro worked with him early, in "This Boy's Life" (1993) and told Martin Scorsese, "You gotta look out for this kid; he's gonna be good." And then in a sense everybody seems to feel his career was sidetracked by "Titanic" because it was too successful.

Spielberg: That's true.

Ebert: So he's making his "comeback" now after having of all that success. You've had a lot of success, too. How does that work?

Spielberg: Well, I've had a lot of success but I've never been traumatized by the cultural phenomenon that came down upon Leo that basically meant that all the credit and all the blame went right to Leonardo DiCaprio. I don't mean blame for the movie, which was perceived as being a really good movie, but the blame for creating such a media circus. Leo was just a cast member. He was an actor playing a role for many, many months, and then he suddenly couldn't go anywhere. He was a prisoner. A prisoner of hotel rooms, a prisoner in his own home. He couldn't go anywhere. Everybody's out there with cameras--and then his life became mythological. The rumors were much greater and much more exaggerated than the facts of his personal life. I think it did stall his career by about four or five years.

Ebert: But by the time you came to cast him, you felt that he was back in the ranks of just being a good actor. Obviously, he's a star but ...

Spielberg: Yeah, but, you know, I've always thought he was a good actor. When I saw "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" (1993), I thought he was a phenomenon. I always wanted to work with him, and he actually predates me on "Catch Me If You Can." He came first before I decided to direct the movie, so he was already attached to play Frank, and my job was to go over meet him for the first time, thank him for giving my little daughter Sacha an autograph when "Titanic" came out. I wound up just going crazy for him.

Ebert: And Tom Hanks was involved at that time or you brought him in?

Spielberg: No, Tom had read the script as a writing sample and called me and Walter Parkes, the co-producer, and said, "Can I be in this movie? Do you think Steven would let me play the FBI agent? I really know who this guy is." And then Tom called me and he said, "Can I kinda horn in here?" And I said, my God, what do you mean horn in? Then he called Leo and said, "Is it an imposition for me to be this movie, which is clearly your film? You're carrying it. Would it be an imposition upon you if I played the FBI agent?" Leo thought that heaven had just come down to earth for him. So in a sense, Tom invited himself into the project in such a humble, beautiful way.

Ebert: You've worked with Tom Cruise as well as with Leonardo DiCaprio, two people who've had to deal with the spotlight of fame. Do you get involved in that or do you just kind of ...

Spielberg: I'm like a witness to it. I love watching. I went to Japan to open "Minority Report" about a month ago, and we walked into 4,000 screaming fans all screaming at the top of their lungs with Japanese accents, "Tom, Tom, Tom." And Tom throws himself into the crowd. He signs autographs, he gets his picture taken with people. He came an hour and a half early to every premiere we did on "Minority Report" in Europe so we could be with the people, let them take his picture, sign their autographs. He is the most generous actor with his own time I have ever experienced when it comes to his fans.



 
Just a reminder that Steven Spielberg's breezy and deceptively froth Catch Me If You Can opens on Christmas Day. Leonardo DiCaprio gives his best performance yet as Frank Abagnale Jr., the con man (or con teen, really) who passes himself off as a Pan Am pilot at age 18 and is so good that he even gets a hooker to pay him for sex.

But Catch Me's real gem is Christopher Walken, who plays Abagnale Sr. Walken has gotten a funny rep over the years as a scary dude who looks nuts and plays nuttier. He has kind of a weird sense of humor that doesn't always translate on film. On stage, however, he is usually mesmerizing.

As Abagnale's father, Walken is poignant and endearing. At the same time that he lays the groundwork for his son's demise, he is also a frustrating presence for him. Passed over by the Golden Globes, I guarantee Walken will be remembered by the Screen Actors Guild and possibly even the Academy of Motion Pictures for this role. If so, it will be his first Oscar nomination since 1978's The Deer Hunter.



 
Box-office king Leonardo DiCaprio is back this holiday season -- and ET caught up with His Hotness to get the latest on both of his festive flicks, 'The Gangs of New York' and 'Catch Me If You Can.' Watch tonight's show for lots of Leo!

So what if you could pass yourself off as any professional you wanted, just for fun? Well, Leo does just that -- despite Tom Hanks' efforts to stop him -- in the new Steven Spielberg thriller, 'Catch Me If You Can.'

Leo had plenty to say about his cool character! "[My character] impersonates an airline pilot and a lawyer and a doctor as well as many other things," he said. "When you find someone this good at conning, it comes naturally to them, you know?"

Set in the early '60s, 'Catch Me If You Can' is based upon the memoirs of Frank Abagnale, the youngest man ever to land on the FBI's most wanted list. In Catch Me If You Can: The Amazing True Story of the Most Extraordinary Liar in the History of Fun and Profit, Frank details how he posed as these professionals -- all before his 18th birthday!

So, is Leo as suave a con man as Frank? "Not nearly," the 'Titanic' pin-up told ET's Mary Hart. "He's an incredible man. Let's just put it this way: He was a better actor than 99 percent of the people you see up on-screen."

Tom plays FBI agent Carl Hanratty, who devoted his life to capturing Frank and bringing him to justice -- but always found himself just one critical step behind. The master of deception, known to authorities as the Skywayman, was also a brilliant forger who became the most successful bank robber in U.S. history.

Also starring Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen and "Alias" star Jennifer Garner, 'Catch Me If You Can' opens in theaters nationwide this Christmas, just a week after Leo's other film, 'Gangs of New York.'

"Both of these movie are coming out at the same time," explains Leo about the coincidental release, "and I don't look at them as films that are going head-to-head and doing battle. They're both just pieces of art that I put out there and I just hope for the best. I'm very proud of them."

And when all the film promotion is over, what does Leo like to do? "I love sports. I love basketball. Primarily, on the off-season, being an environmentalist has been my focus."




 
Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can dances across the screen with the effortless grace of Fred Astaire and the sexy provocation of Ginger Rogers.

I don't mean that it's a musical. Catch Me is a family drama, a romantic comedy, a nimble, playful thriller and a morality play all in one. The dance is in the beautiful fluidity of this 1960s-era story. The movie glides across the screen like Astaire & Rogers used to do on polished marble floors.

Catch Me has a slightly surreal tone and look. Reality is heightened. Colours are brightened. Scenes are shot in bright light that gives the illusion of soft focus. In content and style, Spielberg has dramatically shifted gears from his recent films, the Kubrick epic A.I.: Artificial Intelligence and the futuristic police flick Minority Report.

There are also some wonderful performances, a critical element Spielberg's films never fail to deliver. Here Leonardo DiCaprio is smooth, sweet, deep and delightful in the lead role. Combined with his rugged, visceral performance in Gangs Of New York and it's clear DiCaprio has risen again.

As DiCaprio's loving father here, Christopher Walken offers one of his most profound and charming performances in years. Spielberg has stripped away the menace that other directors too often and too lazily exploit in the actor.

Catch Me If You Can is pitched as "the true story of a real fake." That's not quite true. The movie is inspired by a real-life saga but so much poetic licence is taken that the story has shifted off its foundations in truth.

No matter, in this case. This is not a history lesson but a compelling little tale of deception and longing. The movie conjures the remarkable teenaged escapades of Frank W. Abagnale, who today is a consultant to the FBI.

But, when Abagnale was 16, his parents (Walken and French actress Nathalie Baye) split up and divorced and he was devastated.

The handsome young lad ran away from home and supported himself by forging cheques. The fraud escalated and he posed as an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer to maintain his cover. He never flew a plane nor performed an operation. Instead, he posed to legitimize himself, eventually passing up to $4 million in bad cheques.

His charm also allowed him to romance dozens of women (including, in the movie, Jennifer Garner and Amy Adams).

The scams are true. Spielberg and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson, who adapted Abagnale's autobiographical book, stuck to the facts of the scams because truth is stranger than fiction. But family and police matters were dramatized.

In the movie, a cat-and-mouse game, DiCaprio's Abagnale Jr. is chased by a stoic and relentless, yet fundamentally decent, FBI agent. This fictional construct, a composite of real-life agents, is played with a buttoned-down demeanour by Tom Hanks, who perfectly serves the movie without a trace of flash or style. He rightly lets DiCaprio steal scenes.

In the end, good triumphs but rarely, at least in recent years, has a scam artist flick been this much fun. Think The Sting, Midnight Run, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid.

Catch Me If You Can is in good company.



 
CNN) -- The long-anticipated "Catch Me If You Can," directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, was well worth the wait.
DiCaprio plays Frank W. Abagnale Jr., who in the 1960s traveled the world impersonating, among others, an airline pilot, a doctor and an attorney -- all before reaching the age of 21. With the FBI hot on his trail, he financed his masquerades by cashing millions of dollars in forged checks. It's the classic example of a story being so far-fetched that it would never have been made into a film if it weren't true.

After a series of fairly dark films, including "Minority Report" and "A.I. Artificial Intelligence," Spielberg has returned to lighter subject matter, and it's a welcome breath of fresh air to have him back making pure entertainment once again. From the crisp, chirpy graphics of the opening credits to the film's final frames, "Catch Me If You Can" sparkles as a homage to the early 1960s, when a bright-eyed optimism gripped the clean-shaven masses.

There was still some innocence in that period between "I Like Ike" and the bloody end of Camelot, when a man's word was his bond, and clothes -- especially a uniform or a pinstriped suit -- made the man. Abagnale took advantage of that innocence over and over again.

A man in a uniform
The film begins with the 27-year-old DiCaprio playing Abagnale as a teenager. The actor does a extremely believable job. Young Frank is living an idyllic life in mid-America. His mother, Paula, is a World War II war bride from France (played by French actress Nathalie Baye), and his father, Frank Sr. (beautifully played by Christopher Walken) is his son's hero.

But Frank Sr. is also a man who attempts to find, but never catches, the American dream. Eventually he grabs for the golden ring one too many times and falls; the family is forced to move from their comfortable suburban home into a tiny apartment. Soon Paula leaves for another man and a better life.

This crushes Frank Sr. and drives Frank Jr. to run away from home and into his infamous crime spree -- and a cat-and-mouse game that eventually takes him around the world while cashing millions of dollars in bogus checks.

He starts out slowly with phony checks for small amounts, but one day he has an epiphany: he sees a Pan American Airlines pilot in full uniform breezing down the street, admired by all who see him. In the '60s, air travel was still new enough that anyone involved in the industry was considered to be glamorous -- and no one was more glamorous than the pilots themselves.

In an act that would be impossible in today's world, Frank pretends to be a pilot who has lost his uniform -- and he's promptly provided with a replacement. Now he's added years to his age just by wearing a garment of authority and honesty.

He's suddenly able to cash checks for even larger amounts with little or no hassle. He also learns how to "deadhead" (fly for free) on airlines around the world posing as a Pan Am pilot. The sheer chutzpah of this action is mind-boggling, and even though he is clearly breaking the law, you can't help but cheer him on as he gleefully partakes in wine, women and song while traveling the friendly skies.

Dynamic relationships
Now things get really interesting. Abagnale's actions have caught the eye of the FBI, and as luck would have it, the case is assigned to a very persistent agent named Carl Hanratty, played by Hanks. The film's main dynamic shifts to these two men, who form an almost father-and-son relationship -- a relationship which is the heart and soul of the film.

Soon Frank Jr. begins posing as other professionals in an attempt to get Hanratty off his trail. He successfully pretends to be an attorney and a doctor (among other things) while barely keeping ahead of Hanratty's determined pursuit.

The brilliance of the film lies in the way that Spielberg lets us into the mind of young Abagnale. At first it's all a lark, but eventually the audience is drawn into Abagnale's panic as his options run out. You can feel his desperation in periodic phone calls that he makes to Hanratty. It becomes clear that Abagnale's lonely life on the run is taking its toll.

DiCaprio is terrific as Abagnale, taking his character on a wide-arcing journey of self-discovery. Hanks brings gravity and humanity to his role as Hanratty, who truly begins to care for the young man he's grimly chasing across the globe.

"Catch Me If You Can" is wildly entertaining from start to finish. From its sassy beginning to its dark conclusion, this film delivers an enormous bang for your movie-going buck.



 
No Justice, No Peace
Go back 33 years and look at the pretexts given for the war in Indochina. See how hollow they look today? In far less than 33 years, the pretexts for the war in Iraq, which now appears to have ended, will be revealed as being equally hollow, shortsighted and mendacious.

This was explicitly described as being a preventive or pre-emptive war, meaning it absolutely had to be waged to prevent an imminent, present danger to the national security of the United States. It is now crystal clear, if it were not so before the war began, that there was no demonstrable danger to the United States from Iraq. The country was so debilitated after the 1991 war and subsequent sanctions that even its immediate neighbors did not feel threatened. Most of them did not support this war, even though all of them had strong grievances against the regime in Baghdad. We have now seen just how feeble Iraq was: Barely four divisions of American and British troops crushed its military and occupied the country in little more than three weeks. Iraq’s execrable and tyrannical regime posed no threat to anyone but its own people. There was absolutely no connection between Iraq and 9/11.

Its backers justified this war largely because of the dangerous arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons that Iraq allegedly possessed. If they existed, the Iraqi regime did not use such weapons defensively against U.S. forces when its very existence was in peril. This shows that Iraq was eminently deterrable, contrary to the hysterical frothing of the war proponents about the irrationality of its regime. Moreover, U.S. forces have not yet found these weapons, meaning at the very least that they were probably not issued to military units. Indeed, they may all have been destroyed, as the defector Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel stated during his interrogation before his ill-fated return to Baghdad. And evidence from a variety of sources shows that Iraq had no nuclear or biological weapons (though it had programs to develop them before the 1991 war).

Iraq did have chemical weapons. Declassified government documents revealed that the United States facilitated their acquisition and acquiesced to their use during the ’80s against Iran and Iraq’s own Kurdish citizens. But when Donald Rumsfeld visited Baghdad as a presidential envoy in 1983, he never mentioned them. If chemical weapons still exist, they are illegal and should be removed. But chemical artillery shells and short-range rocket warheads posed no direct threat to the United States, and were no justification for a war.

Nor would such weapons warrant war if they exist in Syria. These and all other non-conventional weapons in the Middle East, notably Israel’s well-documented nuclear arsenal, should be removed (just as Israel should be brought into compliance with Security Council resolutions it has flouted). This should not be achieved by war, but rather as part of a multilateral effort to end the proliferation of non-conventional weapons and resolve disputes throughout this dangerous region.

This war was unjustified and foolish because it represented a dangerous challenge to international law and morality, to the stability of the international system, to traditional alliance systems, and ultimately to the security of the United States. Pre-emptive war on flimsy pretexts establishes dangerous precedents that will now be cited by other would-be aggressors, for whom the elevation of the law of the jungle to the guiding principle of international morality will be most convenient. We have benefited enormously from the existing post-World War II international order anchored in the United Nations, which the Bush administration cavalierly decided to discard. While it did so, the administration deceived the public via its compliant organs of war propaganda, FOX, CNN and MSNBC, with transparent fictions like the existence of a “coalition” consisting of Britain, Tonga, the Solomon Islands and a few other states ashamed to be publicly associated with this disreputable effort.

This war was unjustified and indeed dangerous because it has completely and utterly alienated the rest of the world. You will not see that stark reality conveyed in the pap served up by the American cable TV outlets, but you need just look at media produced literally anywhere else in the world to see that the United States is totally alone in its effort in Iraq, except for Sancho Panza Blair at No. 10 Downing Street. We need international cooperation to achieve many national purposes, not least among them dealing with the real purveyors of terrorism directed against this country, like al-Qaeda, rather than the phantasmal conglomeration of enemies conjured up by the Bush administration to justify what amounts to a permanent state of war domestically and globally.

--------------

This war also was allegedly fought to bring liberty and democracy to Iraq. The war party would have been more honest if they had stuck to their original stated objective of “regime change.” The United States has changed the regime in Baghdad with relative ease. However, I would venture to predict that we are unlikely to see true democracy on the banks of the Tigris anytime soon. The Iraqis do not want U.S. bases established in their country, do not want others to control their oil resources, and undoubtedly do not want their country to recognize Israel and provide it with oil—all things that we have been explicitly told will take place under the shadow of the U.S. occupation. Moreover, most Iraqis are Shi’a and may want an Islamic government. They are unlikely to be allowed one by their occupiers.

Finally, what you will not hear in the flow of muscled sarcasm and aggressive bullying Donald Rumsfeld so enjoys engaging in from his podium in the Pentagon are four words: the rule of law. That is something else we are unlikely to see in Baghdad anytime soon. Instead, we are already seeing stooges, carpetbaggers and convicted embezzlers like Ahmad Chalabi installed in positions of power. We will see rigged elections and handpicked assemblies. If the Iraqis get anything but chaos, they will get the regime the Pentagon wants, a regime which will last only as long as U.S. forces occupy the country and can maintain it in power.

The demise of the Iraqi regime must be counted as an unmitigated good. But against this unquestioned gain must be set the unknowable losses. Fortunately, only about 150 American and British soldiers have been killed and less than 600 wounded so far. How many thousands or tens of thousands of Iraqi conscripts died in the hail of fire our forces rained on them? The figures will be concealed from us as a matter of firm, unstated Pentagon policy. How many civilians died in Basra, Hilla, Nasiriya, Diwaniya and Baghdad? Again, our government will not tell us.

Most members of the compliant U.S. media, who should be finding out these things as a matter of professional responsibility, are too busy writing down the ineffable gems uttered by Rumsfeld and the generals. One British reporter has mentioned 1,000 civilians killed in one day, counted by one Baghdad hospital during the capture of the city. Another reported on the BBC that an Iraqi doctor in Hilla stated that 240 to 300 wounded patients had passed through his clinic alone. Where is the investigative reporting that would verify or disprove these numbers and provide us with serious totals of civilian casualties?

We also must know how much damage was done to Iraq’s educational, health and administrative systems by the war and the extensive looting and pillage thereafter. We already know two universities in Baghdad and one in Basra, the museums in Baghdad and Mosul, most hospitals in Baghdad, and 38 government ministries have been looted, many of them burned. Of course, the oil wells are safe. Ours is a government run by men (and one woman) with long experience in the oil business, and they know what is really important in Iraq. Its oil wells and its oil ministry escaped virtually unscathed from the war, and were carefully protected by U.S. troops thereafter. This was unfortunately not the case for the greatest collection of antiquities from perhaps the greatest and oldest civilization on earth, which were contained in those two museums, or for the national archives of Iraq going back hundreds of years, or for an extensive collection of Islamic texts including the oldest known copy of the Quran.

These are all gone, looted or burned, and this tragic loss (which under the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention and the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict is the responsibility of the occupying power) will be remembered and mourned by history long after the shabby, deceitful pretexts for this war have been forgotten. And as it has begun, with looting, chaos and deceit, so will this occupation continue, notwithstanding the relentlessly optimistic fairy tales provided by the Bush administration about how everything is getting better each day in Iraq.

--------------

Two final points are in order. First, Iraq has a long tradition of fierce resistance to foreign occupation. Most Iraqis probably wanted to see the end of the tyrannical regime that ruled them for 35 years. But most of those Iraqis who have expressed themselves to Western and Arab reporters (though never seen on television) almost without exception have said clearly that now that Saddam is gone, American troops should leave quickly.

They will most likely not go quickly enough, since the Bush administration seems to have too many sinister plans for installing carpetbaggers who are the personal friends of the mandarins in the Pentagon, for the long-term establishment of U.S. military bases in Iraq, for private (read: American) control of Iraqi oil, for scandalous profits for the likes of Bechtel and Halliburton. We should remember that Iraq was a country that Britain had to conquer, reconquer, and reconquer again with the greatest difficulty, in 1917, 1920 and 1941. It is a country that never willingly accepted British bases on its soil or British control of its oil. The protests against the continued American military presence we are seeing already in different parts of the country are only a harbinger of what is to come.

Finally, the people who sold us the shabby justifications for this war, the neocon hawks who emerged from their lairs at the American Enterprise Institute and now infest the Pentagon, the National Security Council and the vice president’s staff, have been very explicit in saying what they really want: Iraq is only part of a larger plan for a larger war. And this is the most profound reason why the war in Iraq was wrong.

A muscular international effort to disarm Iraq, by force if necessary, governed by an international consensus with strictly limited aims, would have been one thing. It might well have been achievable, were it not for the fact that the transparent ulterior motives of the Bush administration terrified the rest of the world. But the hawks did not want such a limited, multilateral effort under any circumstances. They were lusting for a unilateral, pre-emptive war to change the Iraqi regime and begin a process of radical, destabilizing change in the entire Middle East. This is not only wrong, it is profoundly misguided, for it ignores the history and present-day realities of the Middle East and seriously overestimates the power of the United States to reshape the international system single-handedly. It is a doomed project, one whose cost will be borne not only by the soldiers called on to sacrifice in Iraq and on the next battlefield, and the one after that, but by all of us here at home and by the entire world.

In the end, the best justification for having opposed the war in Iraq—futile though such opposition may temporarily seem today in light of the current orgy of chauvinistic triumphalism led by the cheerleaders on cable TV—is this: The war was wrong because it was unjustified, was driven by base motivations, and was intended by its authors to lead to another unjustified war, and perhaps another after that. That way lies empire, and the end of our republic, for the history of Athens and Rome teaches us that no republic can long survive at home when it becomes an empire abroad.

However, this transition from republic to empire is not an inexorable process. We, the citizens of this country, are not yet imperial subjects, and we can halt it. We can do so by halting the drive to the next war, by questioning the flimsy, shifting, deceitful rationales for the last one, and by exposing the corrupt nature of the anaesthetizing, shameless propaganda offered up by FOX, CNN and MSNBC.

Over two centuries ago, the founders of this republic all wisely warned against foreign adventures and dangerous entanglements of the sort we have just embarked on in Iraq. Perhaps they could not have foreseen the awesome power of the United States, or its global reach, or the depths of shamelessness to which so much of its media have sunk. Nevertheless, the wisdom of their advice remains highly relevant. We should heed it, and oppose the senseless march toward empire, which this war, and the next war, are meant to lead us on.





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