15 April 2007 | WriterDave
Enjoyable "True Crime" Farce
"The Hoax" is a rollicking good time at the movies. It's a strongly written, competently directed, and well acted character study of a pathological liar, Clifford Irving. This amazing true story details the complex hoax staged by Irving, a man who in the 1970's fooled a major publisher and LIFE magazine into thinking he was writing an authorized biography of Howard Hughes. Most of the fun emerges from the extreme lengths Irving (Richard Gere) and his best friend and partner (Alfred Molina) go to pull off the hair-brained scheme. The more outrageous the lies they concoct, the more believable they become and the more money gets thrown at them.
Richard Gere has never been that good of an actor, but he's always had an arrogant charm that makes him oddly likable, and he uses that to its full extent in what is probably his most mature performance here as Clifford Irving, a arrogantly likable and charming liar. He's surrounded by a fantastic supporting cast in Alfred Molina (as his sympathetic and often comical side-kick), Marcia Gay Harden (donning blonde hair and a European accent as his long-suffering but eager to con wife), and Hope Davis (playing his publishing industry connection). Davis probably gets the best line in the film when she says to a coworker who unwittingly foils a "staged" face-to-face meeting with Hughes, "Pray that you drop dead."
The film starts slowly and plays things for "winks and laughs" and light drama. It gets slightly bogged down in the final act as the hoax crumbles under its own preposterous weight and some scenes get heavy on the melodrama. There's also some wishy-washy "conspiracy" theories floating around about the Nixon administration and Howard Hughes that maybe somewhat true, but might be another figment of Irving's fanciful imagination as this is based on his "memoirs" of the events.
These few flaws, however, don't sink the ship as the playful cast and sure-handed direction from Lasse Hallstrom (in what his probably his best work since "Cider House Rules") keep the hoax firmly afloat. What the film ultimately excels in is the connections it makes with Irving's pathological personality (that ultimately leads to severe paranoia and delusions of grandeur), the paranoia of the Nixon administration (that mirrors nicely the modern Bush administration), and the alleged over-the-top eccentricities of the infamous Howard Hughes. In his mind Irving intertwines himself with these two powerful and tragic men. The film highlights how Irving saw himself and Hughes as smooth-talking, larcenous megalomaniacs, and truly believed he was going to be a major player in world history with the take down of Nixon even though he never had direct contact with either man and based his story on gossip, hearsay, and innuendos. It's really not much of a stretch to imagine Hughes bribing Nixon and wielding power like the wizard behind the curtain in Oz, and it makes for a well told tale. Whether we believe the story ultimately lies in how much power we allow each of these men to have. In his image, Irving thought Hughes held power over everyone, and for Irving, his tiny part in all that was the greatest story of all.