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Early in 1971, McGraw-Hill passes on Clifford Irving's new novel. He's desperate for money, so, against the backdrop of Nixon's reelection calculations, Irving claims he has Howard Hughes's cooperation to write Hughes's autobiography. With the help of friend Dick Suskind, Irving does research, lucks into a manuscript written by a long-time Hughes associate, and plays on corporate greed. He's quick-thinking and outrageously bold. Plus, he banks on Hughes's reluctance to enter the public eye. At the same time, he's trying to rebuild his marriage and deflect the allure of his one-time mistress, Nina Van Pallandt. Can he write a good book, take the money, and pull off the hoax? Written by
The books being burned at the end of the movie are surplus copies of 'Knife of Dreams', the eleventh novel in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. The series logo and gate-fold map are clearly visible in one shot. See more »
Each time Irving and Susskind drive into town, the same cars are parked in the same places. See more »
a film about trickery, done in a tricky style that works, with crackling performances
Lasse Halstrom isn't out, as a film-making, to make really extreme and probing insights into what goes into a prankster/forger like Clifford Irving. Maybe it's because he, like I, saw Orson Welles's film F For Fake, which covered similar ground and has the only substantial footage of Clifford Irving on record and in full bloom with his BS meter going sky-high. That film, overall, dug very deep into what is to have forgery, a hoax, as part of personality. Halstrom doesn't quite get that, but nevertheless he's made an entertaining mini-saga of a man- or rather men in this case- who went to the edge of credibility and almost got away with the whole shebang. His story, as covered as well in part in F for Fake, is about Irving's incredibly smart and incredibly stupid attempt at passing off as his own the autobiography of Howard Hughes, then the notoriously reclusive and nutty billionaire with his fingers in enterprises all over the world. He passes off Hughes's handwriting to the publishers and lawyers as his, even as it's really Irving who wrote it all, and even went so far as to have mock audio recordings of Irving AS Hughes to get down in the book via assistant Dick Suskind. As the walls seem to be closing in on their scam, as well as Irving's marriage, it goes as far as mass printings of the book Irving presents- until the 'real' Hughes makes a press conference call (call, of course), to disprove the book altogether as a hoax.
Halstrom surprisingly makes his film light and dark in tone, depending on what stage the story is in, and it's even fun at times to see Irving and Suskind go about their risk-taking maneuvers to get all documents and information they can on Hughes, as if it's guerrilla research. Then as the despair of constant lying increases, and the threat of capture and revelation is nearer, Halstrom makes it more like a paranoid thriller. This latter part may actually be not quite as convincing- so to speak of course, as one can't be sure entirely what's true or not in The Hoax- because, simply, one might not see Irving so much as a crazy person ala Hughes so much as a kind of strange artist-cum-professional at what he does: to make himself believe the BS before he even feeds it to others. Scenes like Irving getting caught by Hughes's "secret agents" in the middle of the night are not as striking as Halstrom might have intended, even as all the while the performances are still good. And the realm of placing the story in context of the times is hit or miss; it works, to be sure, when going into the Nixon administration sections because it's crucial to the story (and, according to some articles on the film, is possibly really accurate), though putting in the footage of Vietnam and protesters and so forth are sort of padding to environment and period. The music, costumes, locations (i.e. Las Vegas) and simple political ramifications make it enough.
This being said, The Hoax provides the audience with some very effective performances. Gere, under the right director, can be terrific, and this is one of his best performances in years, as he balances out Irving's higher aspirations of wealth and notoriety with his latter plunge into confusing his own personality with that of Hughes, with suspicions of everything or anyone around him. The filmmakers wisely don't make Irving very sympathetic, and Gere plays this for all it's worth with moments of charm, tension, and delusions of grandeur played out wonderfully. However, if Gere is good, Alfred Molina is better as Suskind, Irving's collaborator and the real behind-the-scenes guy who helps make Irving's fabrications all the more palatable, like hiding documents out of the Pentagon or flying to another country to mail an envelope. Suskind, unlike Irving, ends up dealing with the hoax with more of a psychological/moral burden, and it ends up weighing on his conscience like a brick. It might make Suskind the more conventional character in the movie, but Molina makes him very real and more of the tragic case than Gere's Irving. Molina's track record, at the least, remains untarnished. Other supporting players like Marcia Hay Harden, Julie Delpy, Eli Wallach, and Stanley Tucci are better than average here.
The Hoax is a good treat in this month's lot of schlock and big-budget trash by sticking close to making it an actor's movie, and sort of a bittersweet take on what a hoax does in such a grand scale as that of Howard Hughes, and what it does to a person the longer and more intense it goes on for.
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