Should We Believe in The Hoax?

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(Clifford Irving (Richard Gere) hands his editor (Hope Davis) a line as faux Howard Hughes biographer in The Hoax.)

The Hoax, screenplay by William Wheeler, based on the novel by Clifford Irving. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom. Released by Miramax.

With whom should we sympathize when a hoaxer who’s been imprisoned complains about the accuracy of a Hollywood film depicting his hoax? Lasse Hallstrom has made an entertaining film about acknowledged, accomplished, arrogant forger and author Clifford Irving (Richard Gere.) When he is turned down by his longstanding publisher McGraw-Hill and his editor Andrea Tate (Hope Davis) on his latest book, Irving daringly claims he has permission from reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes to write his biography.

In real life, Irving claims he had four other books under contract and the ruse was not out of desperation but a sort of collegial prankster spirit. That may be but Hallstrom, who so pleased this writer and author John Irving with his elegiac film adaptation of The Cider House Rules, does get into Irving’s head impressively. A startling sequence when he must confront his marital infidelity in front of his wife Edith (Marcia Gay Harden) shows the pathological level of self-deception in Irving.

It’s a terrific cast, including Stanley Tucci as icy McGraw-Hill publisher Shelton Fisher, who suspects the worst and while continually writing bigger checks to Irving, venomously promises to prosecute him if Fisher is duped. The always watchable Alfred Molina plays Irving co-conspirator Dick Susskind, weak and easily manipulated. One character flaw in Wheeler’s otherwise well-crafted work is the question why Susskind fell in with Irving and continued to be in thrall to him.

Still, it’s a delicious ride, as Gere as Irving “channels” the voice of Hughes for his devious purposes and bluffs his way deeper and deeper into literary trickery. The actual Irving may rightfully argue about the liberties taken with the supposed truth of the tale in the film, but Hallstrom ties it nicely into the 70s era, including a newly provided theory about the wily Hughes using Irving right back to serve his own political ends.

Critical Moment: Some major liberties with Irving’s circumstances. Fine performances. Very watchable cast. Satisfyingly captures pathology of a brilliant but delusional hoaxer.

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