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5 reviews, 6 user ratings

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Hoax, The
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by Erik Childress

"A Book Oprah Would Have Recommended Back In The Day"
4 stars

It’s fashionable these days to deliver fresh ink on the decline of journalism in this country. The tabloid, politicized leanings from all corners of the compass have slanted the truth like a rollercoaster without a harness for the passengers. We like it quick. We like it simple. Dirt now. Wash later. The haze was blurred over further when Oprah’s last choice for her book club minions turned out to be a publishing fraud; fiction disguised as non-fiction. In all the stories written about James Frey and his Million Little Pieces (and there were many), how many of today’s reporters evoked the name of Clifford Irving? Taking Maxwell Scott to heart, Irving had himself a legend named Howard Hughes and then just ignored the biggest fact of all – that he never had him.

Richard Gere plays the real-life Irving, a once critically acclaimed if unsuccessful novelist who in the early 70s was getting resistance from his publishing house about his latest work. When Andrea Tate (Hope Davis) tells him a negative review has all but killed his chances, Clifford is forced to find a subject that would knock the literary world on its end to save his career. That’s what happens when you announce you’re writing “the most important book of the 20th century.” So, who better than the most reclusive success story in American history? Irving has no contact with Hughes other than being kicked out of a hotel to satisfy his peculiar need for absolute privacy, but it’s a name guaranteed to get him a meeting and figures there’s little chance the billionaire would ever make an appearance to denounce its authenticity.

Using his friend and researcher, Dick Susskind (Alfred Molina), Irving throws himself into the fraud with the abandon perhaps of the art forger whose biography, Fake!, he penned a few years back. He convinces the publishers with a series of letters forged in Hughes’ handwriting from Newsweek and lays out the demands of secrecy that his subject insists upon. An advance check is cut, as is one for Hughes, that will further involve Irving’s wife, Edith (Marcia Gay Harden), whose scruples for Clifford’s infidelity far outweigh what she thinks of his scheme. Over the months that follow, Irving gets in deeper and deeper as those close to Hughes question the validity of his story which he must continually reinvent on the fly to fit the lie.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and here it’s the delectable details Irving uses to salivate the growing greed on the part of his publishers. Forming deals with Time-Life to print portions of the book, McGraw-Hill become co-conspirators when the dollar signs continue to linger north of each accusation. Director Lasse Hallstrom, screenwriter William Wheeler and editor Andrew Mondshein have some great fun in the way Irving twists his stories around by reenivisioning events we’ve already witnessed as truth through his own imagination. They are in turn comical and, eventually, sinister in deceiving those he asked to believe in him the most.

Wheeler’s script, based on the novel recollection penned by Irving itself, takes an interesting turn as Clifford is presented with information more damning than the hoax he himself is perpetrating. Forced with potentially history-altering evidence, Irving finally develops a moral quandary on whether or not to include it in his book as one of the few instances of truth. Or is it? The final third of the movie introduces a few unnecessary devices to swell Irving’s self-created dementia like a second cousin to John Nash and the attempts at melding Irving’s fascination with Hughes into becoming the recluse himself isn’t fleshed out enough for us to believe it as either a dramatic arc or a manic fantasy. Wheeler and Hallstrom grasp a better control of Irving’s penchant for ladies not wearing his ring. Although severely downplayed from the extent of his real-life infidelities, it hangs over the movie in every scene between the Irvings and carries distinct devastation for more than just the couple in Clifford’s greatest betrayal in the story.

This is some of the best work of Richard Gere’s career as he blends the breezy charm that can get him into a room and keep him there with a more self-effacing ooze that make Irving the weaker man that he is. Equally brilliant is Molina who turns Susskind into a bundled twist of recurring nerves at each of his friend’s requests, but also the watchdog casually trying to keep his friend off the tracks he hopes never to cover. The Hoax is a great project for Hallstrom, who before being Miramax’s key to the Oscars, delivered solid ensemble works such as Once Around and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and its nice to see him back on that path after misfires like The Shipping News, An Unfinished Life and Casanova. “The bigger the lie, the more people will believe it,” once said by Adolf Hitler becomes “the more outrageous I am, etc…” The Hoax may be set in the ‘70s, but those words apply way too casually in today’s mediacentric celebrity culture. Many of those on the fake today can’t even live up to the legend of Clifford Irving.

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originally posted: 04/06/07 14:00:00
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User Comments

1/21/11 millersxing clever film with satisfying performances 4 stars
12/26/07 Lynn boring as hell, wanted to fall asleep many times 3 stars
7/03/07 William Goss Gere and Molina shine in sprightly true-life crime caper. 4 stars
5/11/07 bruce Sweeney good, not great tale of a past publishing scandal 4 stars
4/15/07 Priscilla Morris Loved it 4 stars
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  06-Apr-2007 (R)
  DVD: 14-Feb-2012



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