Review by Jack Foley
IN 1972, frustrated author Clifford Irving delivered a manuscript to his publishers McGraw-Hill under the guise of being the official autobiography of billionaire recluse Howard Hughes.
In truth, it was a hoax. Despite Irving’s claims to the contrary, the author never had any dealing with Hughes and subsequently became indicted for fraud.
Lasse Hallström’s engrossing film The Hoax chronicles these events and boasts a brilliant lead performance from Richard Gere as the man at the centre of one of Hollywood’s biggest scandals.
As Irving, Gere manages to combine the confident charisma of his best-known ladykiller roles with a darker, more complex side last seen in films like Internal Affairs and Somersby. It’s a timely reminder of what a diverse actor he can be.
Under his expert portrayal, viewers are offered a fascinating, often funny insight into how Irving went about duping almost everyone around him firm in the belief that Hughes – by then living as a hermit and addicted to prescription drugs – would never come out and publicly denounce the book.
But as word of the book spread prior to its publication, Irving was forced to resort to increasingly desperate lengths to make his work seem genuine, forging letters and copying Hughes’s voice in a bid to preserve his reputation, his marriage and ultimately his sanity.
Gere conveys this transition very capably, even drawing a certain amount of sympathy from viewers. But he’s not the only reason for seeing it.
Director Hallström invokes an excellent sense of period (from fashion through to politics) and draws on an excellent support cast, including Stanley Tucci and Hope Davis as Irving’s gullible publishers, Marcia Gay Harden as his long-suffering wife and Julie Delpy as his European mistress who ultimately contributed to his fall from grace.
The pick of the bunch, however, is Alfred Molina as Irving’s twitchy accomplice and researcher, who provides many of the film’s lighter moments as well as its mounting sense of paranoia. The actor shares an excellent chemistry with Gere.
Crucially, the film’s ability to grip isn’t compromised by the inevitability of its outcome thanks largely to the sheer audacity of the story. Which means that The Hoax acts as both an excellent companion piece to Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator and an intriguing con movie to rival Spielberg’s similarly fact-based Catch Me If You Can. You’ll enjoy being duped.
Running time: 116mins
UK DVD Release Date: February 11, 2008