Directed by: Lasse Hallstrom
Premise: The true story of Clifford Irving (Richard Gere) and Dick Susskind (Alfred Molina), two writers who created a false autobiography of Howard Hughes and sold it to the McGraw Hill publishing company in the mid-1970s.
What Works: The Hoax is a smart and fun story about the snowballing effect of lying and the slippery nature of truth in the act of nonfiction storytelling. The movie is able to explore ethical dilemmas and create an atmosphere of paranoia while at the same time be very entertaining and surprisingly funny. Richard Gere gives his best performance in years as Irving, a man who quickly finds himself drowning in the lies he has created. As Susskind, Alfred Molina matches Gere’s performance. The two are quite a pair, as Irving depends on Susskind for a sense of conscience, but at the same time Irving works to undermine Susskind’s ethical orientation in order to give himself the freedom to sink lower in fraud. The arc of the characters is both funny and touching as their personal and professional relationships are poisoned by the lie of the book and by their need to keep on lying to maintain the illusion. The first act of the story gives Irving some credible motivation for fabricating the book beyond just greed, and this sets him up as a likeable protagonist despite the havoc he will inevitably cause in his life as well as the lives of the other characters. As The Hoax moves through its second act, the scenes in which the manuscript is assembled and passed off as authentic are charged with a sense of humor, mischief, and energy that makes them a great deal of fun to watch, and as the lie becomes becomes mixed with some dirty truths about Howard Hughes’ relationship with then-President Nixon, what began as a lie mingles with facts and the two become so entangled that it is difficult to tell what is true and what isn’t. This aspect of The Hoax gives it some very engaging substance as the lies end up exposing a greater truth and Irving attempts to justify his deceitful means with an intended end.
What Doesn’t: The film is at its best while Irving and Susskind fabricate the book because of the well-developed sense of drama and their playful sense of mischief. The Hoax runs into some trouble in its final act, because the story simply does not have much of a climax or resolution.
Bottom Line: The Hoax is one of the best films so far this year, a picture of substance and a solid piece of entertainment.. In the age of reality television, the newfound popularity of nonfiction literature and especially biographical texts, and contemporary obsessions with historical accuracy, this is an extremely relevant film.
Episode: #140 (May 6, 2007)