Watching the movie was a bit weird because I’ve already read the book on which the movie was based so in principle I knew what was going to happen.
Or so I thought: turns out that the story was significantly altered.
I was surprised that Hollywood felt the need to alter this extraordinary by any measure story but that probably explains why I’m not one of the most successful movie directors of all times.
At some point in the movie Tom Hanks’ character says “Sometimes it’s better to live a lie.” Sounds like a good tagline for Hollywood.
So for those who only saw the movie, here’s a list of things that was different in the book:
- the book is structured along the “I did this and that” theme i.e. it tells the story from the point of view of Frank; the movie is structured as a cat-and-a-mouse game between Frank Abagnail (the young con man played by DiCaprio) and Carl (FBI agent on his trail played by Tom Hanks) and Frank’s relationship with his father
- the book doesn’t mention Frank teaching French in the school; this transfigurement is probably based on Frank impersonating college professor in the book
- the book doesn’t mention “the secret service man accident”
- in the movie Frank is arrested by Carl in France, put in French jail and taken away from jail by Carl; in the book Frank decides to retire from criminal life and hides in a small French village where he’s spotted by a stewardess that knew him from his Pan Am pilot impersonation days. He’s arrested by French police and spends 6 months out of 1 year sentence in a French prison. Then he’s extradited to Sweden for another prison time. He avoids being imprisoned in multiple European countries where he committed fraud and goes back to US where he’s sentenced for 12 years (but gets out earlier)
- according to the movie he’s released from jail explicitly to work for FBI; in the book he’s released on an ordinary parole. After working some time in low-paying jobs he offers his anti-fraud consulting services to businesses and becomes wildly successful at this (typical bad-hacker-turned-security-specialist scenario).
Frank Abagnale’s other book The art of the steal is also interesting. Based on years of work on anti-fraud he describes many kinds of scam and offers tips on how to avoid being a victim of those scams.