Father’s Day at the Movies: The Year Was 2002…

So I was working on a Father’s Day blog post of non-traditional father-and-son movies – by which I mean, those that deal with emotions a little more sophisticated than can be resolved with a game of catch – and I noticed some synergies in my list. Three of the five films I was writing about happened to star Tom Hanks, which is less surprising than the idea that three were released in the same year.That last point stuck with me, and so I’ve trimmed my typical “Take Five” down to a threesome. In honor of Father’s Day, here are three remarkable 2002 movies that explore the father-son paradigm a little differently:

catch me if you canCatch Me If You CanSteven Spielberg movies often deal with absent or distant fathers, but in this biopic about the life of master forger Frank Abegnale, it’s the son who takes a powder – as young Frank (Leonardo DiCaprio) bounces around the world with assumed names and identities, returning home only occasionally to reconnect with his blindly loyal, ineffectual dad (an Oscar-nominated Christopher Walken). Their relationship is Frank’s only anchor in life, and his impulsive need to bring happiness to his father’s failed life adds pathos to a fascinating period chase movie.

Road to PerditionBased on a crime-fiction comic book by Max Allan Collins, Sam Mendes’ second feature (after American Beauty) used a gritty Depression-era setting to showcase the poignant mix of regret, pain, alienation and love between a professional hit man (Hanks) and his eldest son (Tyler Hoechlin). Alone and running for their lives from the consequences of the dad’s life choices, father and son both come to understand more about each other while facing hard truths about the inevitability of legacy. It’s a beautiful film (the last one shot by legendary cinematographer Conrad Hall), and a powerful ode to fatherly love.

about_a_boyAbout a Boy – These movies, like most in the so-called “Fathers” genre, actually tend to focus on the child; the dads are usually fully formed, for better or worse, leaving the narrative arc to rest on the shoulders of the son or daughter as they come to terms with their family ties. But in Chris and Paul Weitz’ adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel, the newfound maturity radiates from Hugh Grant’s character, an independently wealthy bachelor who winds up an awkward father figure for a misfit 12-year-old (Nicholas Hoult). Grant’s Will Freeman is a terminal bachelor (“free man” – get it?) who has no interest in any long-term relationships, let alone even a surrogate son. Slowly but surely, though, the story runs Will through the ringer to have him emerge a reluctant believer in family values.

If anyone has a theory about why 2002 was such a banner year for father-and-son movies, let me know. In the meantime, I hope all you dads had a great day – and everyone who has a dad showed him a good time.