A couple of weeks ago I had the rare opportunity to read the book *and* see the film, thanks to Hachette Australia, who selected my Twitter account at random and sent me the book with tickets.
By the time I had the chance to tackle either, the film had only five days to go in cinemas: it was shaping up to be one of those times I saw the movie before reading the book.
I am not a fan of that!
So I dedicated every spare moment (sorry family!) to cramming the book in five days! Well… it turned out to be so good I did it easily in three.
My review is here, but that’s not what I want to talk about today.
Instead, I want to say something I’ve never said before: the adaptation to movie was surprisingly good! *
Some of the character’s lines were verbatim. Some of the events were exactly as depicted in the novel. This was good.
But, as with any book-to-film, there were striking changes:
- Emma and Joe’s meeting – changed. In the book, this was an important insight into Joe’s blend of intelligence and foolishness.
- The double-crossing – gone. The whole reason for Maso and Joe’s fallout. Gone.
- Three years of jail – left out. We progress from a thought about a possible sentence, to the day of release from jail three years later. No jail scenes whatsoever. These three years were the reasons for the complex motivations between Maso and Joe, but I guess if that’s gone…
- The naval heist – possibly one of the greatest action scenes in the book. Not a mention in the movie.
- The final years at the tobacco farm – never happened. In the book they added to the roundness of Joe’s character, expanding his motivations and reactions.
- The tunnels! I won’t spoil either book or movie, but the tunnels weren’t used in the same way in the conversion to film.
- The boat and feet-in-concrete scenes – entirely skipped.
These were the soul of the story. Joe’s soul. The soul of the 1930’s. The raison d’etre.
But you know what? They’re all just backstory. Lehane may be the master at conveying it, but it’s usually the last thing we need in a movie.
And anyway, the looks passing between Emma and Joe at their book-version meeting; the glances at the safe-room; the understanding of what would happen if he opened that door: they’re all difficult to convey well in movies.
And although the jail couldn’t not exist in Lehane’s story, we’ve seen jails enough in movies to know it’s a lot of shanking, bleeding and losing of dignity.
But two of these left-out-scenes need some heavier explaining away.
Firstly, the naval heist. I wish there’d been the extra 8-10 minutes to show that. It was good – difficult for Joe to pull off, sad in parts, and hugely exciting. But it would have entailed a political explanation of why they did it, and after the explosions and fires and all-out-panic, there were other scenes that needed to be told. All in all, it would have chewed up half an hour. Sadly, I have to agree with Ben Affleck: it had to go.
Secondly, the tunnels. The way Affleck used them? Sheer brilliance! I have to wonder if even Dennis Lehane didn’t slap himself in the forehead and said ‘I wish I’d thought of that!’.
So. I loved this story. In both its versions.
And for anyone who’s only seen the film I recommend you go read the book. It wasn’t so different in essence that you couldn’t easily believe the book just fills in some interesting bits the movie glossed over. Apart from two or three eensy-weensy things that you can pretend you just remembered wrong…
What do you think? Has anyone else ever thought the film was just as good?
* Disclaimer: ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ is not an adaptation! The book was based on the film by Stanley Kubrick, while the film was based on the book by Arthur C Clarke.