April 16, 2007 by JAN ALBERT
TRUTH, JUSTICE & THE AMERICAN WAY AT THE MOVIES:
THE HOAX is a pretty good film that has a couple of great things going for it – A/ a great story and B/ a great performance by Richard Gere – yes, Richard Gere.
Itâ€™s about, as Al Franken might put it, LIES and the LYING LIARS who tell them. As it turns out, in this case, theyâ€™re not really such bad people – just wannabes reaching for their slice of the American Dream. Itâ€™s 1971, the dawn of the Watergate era, and far worse manipulators of the truthâ€”the ones running our country and our corporations – will soon emerge.
The story, a true one, is the stuff of legend. Clifford Irving, a journeyman writer, frustrated by his inability to get major publishers to take him seriously as an A-list novelist, concocts a fantastic story they canâ€™t ignore, and almost pulls off one of the most audacious cons of the 20th century. Although Irvingâ€™s only major book up to this point was called, FAKE!, which chronicled the career of the notorious art forger, Elmyr de Hory, (which might have given some people pause for thought), he somehow convinced McGraw Hill, the same publishing company that wouldnâ€™t give him the time of day before, that world famous billionaire recluse, Howard Hughes, has anointed him as his biographer and authorized Irving to sell his memoirs. Soon, he is cashing checks for a million dollars and has got Life Magazine panting for serialized rights.
The film follows Irving as he pulls his best friend, a brilliant researcher, and his own wife, into the scam. Itâ€™s exhilarating to watch as this handsome charmer makes stuff up out of thin air and people he has always longed to impress buy it, hook, line and sinker. It becomes increasingly harrowing as the high stakes game spins way out of control, the players betray each other, and Irving can no longer keep track of his lies. Director Lasse Halstrom and screenwriter William Wheeler hint at manipulation by players way larger than these three, such as President Richard Nixon, and Howard Hughes himself (who hasnâ€™t been seen in public for decades), emerging for just long enough to pull strings that will put millions more into his own bank account and send Irving and company to prison.
Details of this paranoid period, which sowed the seeds for our current reality of fake news, made up memoirs, and lies upon lies upon lies from our leaders — are skillfully layered throughout. Gere gets tremendous support from Alfred Molina and Marcia Gay Harden, but itâ€™s really his show and heâ€™s tremendously convincing. Gere goes deep within and way beyond the cocky sex appeal thatâ€™s been his stock in trade in the movies since he personified the â€œAmerican Gigolo”. He brings real pathos to this entertaining guy who believes he â€œcouldda been a contenderâ€ – a man simultaneously full of himself and hating himself. Richard Gere has always been a pleasure to spend an hour and a half with in the dark – if you catch my drift â€” but this time the complex man he caught on celluloid isnâ€™t so easy to shake.