This one was a little different than the past Book Vs Movie experiments I’ve done – mainly because Frank was a real man, who played real cons and cashed real “fake” checks… as convoluted as that sounded in my own mind reading it back, it made this one just that little bit more personal.
I always liked this movie – probably primarily because Tom Hanks is amazing, but nevertheless when I found out Frank had written a book, and that was what inspired the film, I was IN! And that was BEFORE I also found it to be a Spielberg film with Leo in it and all kinds of other fun stuff.
So without further ramblings on my part, let me jump into some of the differences between the book and the film:
A big difference that I noticed (and you can actually get confirmation from if you read the Q&A with Frank at the back of certain copies of the book) was that they changed quite a few smaller details. Things like names, aliases, the timeline of events, and even prison time that Frank served in real life in Sweden were altered or omitted altogether.
I LOVED the film giving us some of the FBI part of the chase, whereas the book really only focussed on Frank and his experiences (totally makes sense when you factor in that he’s telling HIS story, and not the story of the FBI or cops who wanted to arrest him). It seemed to be exagerated though, how close they came to catch him time and again. In the book he does admit that it FELT like they were always ready to catch him, but he never saw any actual evidence of that fact… and there certainly wasn’t a moment early on where the Feds interacted with him and he pretended to be a cop too – though that did come later on in his criminal career when he ended up arrested back in the US.
Frank and his family was also something that was changed quite a bit. Firstly, they omitted his real life siblings and gave his mother an affair when in the book he outlines more of the reasoning for the separation of his parents as her wanting to be more independent and working… which, or both to be true is really none of my concern.
Aside from the little changes, and the addition of the Fed storylines, it was also downplayed quite a bit at how much of a “ladies man” the real Frank was. The movie gave him a few girls to date but in the book he made it very clear that he was a bit more of a hound dog. Girl obsessed, as he continued to reassure the reader.
Frank and his Dad had such a nice relationship on screen in this film, and it’s almost too bad to crush the bubble. One thing that I almost wished to be either true, or included in the book, was that Frank continued to write his Dad while on the run, and even snuck visits in. If the book in the entirety is to be believed (without additional context) when Frank left, he didn’t really ever contact his family until he had been arrested and extradited back to the US. The idea that he was trying to get back all the money that “they” took from his family was nothing to do with it – he just wanted money to survive and get girls.
I also noticed Frank Sr. was given a bit more con-ish ways in the film, and gave some sort of potential reasoning as to why Frank Jr was so good at the con. The substitute teacher bit was nowhere that I could recall in the book, but it was funny and continued to build foundation at why Frank might have tried to go the route that he did.
I loved that the book made it very clear that most of Frank’s cons actually required quite a bit of research. He hit the library more times that I do, and was always studying up the best he could before really diving in too deeply to the scenarios he attempted. It was less of him falling ass backwards into something, and more of him really trying to sell it by knowing what he could before jumping in.
A few moments in the film did feel odd – like the laundry mat scene with the Fed that really comes out of nowhere, and goes nowhere… but some of the nods to the book were nice. For example, Frank asking the pilot questions and one of them being about asking what kind of equipment you’re on. There was a fun story in the book where Frank didn’t understand the question and made a fool out of himself. Without telling the story, they gave the little recognition to the funny anticdote, which I appreciated.
That mouse story was something they kept calling back to in the film, but really I didn’t know why it was there. There was also the flash forwards with Tom and Leo as they headed back to the states, and it was fun to see Carl always asking throughout the film how Frank managed to ‘con’ his way through the Bar exam. No ‘ask me to stop’ moments in real life, and no help for Frank from the US as he served his prison sentences in Europe.
The Christmas calls, I have to say was one of my favourite additions. Not touched on in the book, I liked these moments as they linked Carl and Frank together in a more personal way. That gave foundation for the ending… which come to think of it was also different.
The book ended a lot earlier than the film did in Franks story. As he was put into a US prison, he managed to con his way out by pretending to be an undercover agent determining how humane the prison system was. It basically ended with Frank having conned his way into appearing as a Fed himself – though if you read past the final scene in the book you get a bit more general information in what happened to Frank after this.
The Film took it all the way to Frank being pulled out of prison, “White Collar” style to have a deal with the FBI. Working his time off by working for them, and catching forgers… yeah it’s pretty much Neal Caffery, and I’m totally here for it!
Even though there were a ton of changes, the film got the heart of the book right… and isn’t that the main thing? Any way to do it, Frank’s story is something amazing.
See You in the Adventures