THE HOAX directed by Lasse Hallström, written by William Wheeler from Clifford Irving's novel, with Richard Gere, Alfred Molina, Marcia Gay Harden and Hope Davis. An Alliance Atlantis release. 115 minutes. Opens Friday (April 6). Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
Given Lasse Hallström's status as a purveyor of Miramax Oscar bait (The Cider House Rules, Casanova, Chocolat), you can only savour the irony of The Hoax.
The truest film he's made in over a decade is about one of the great literary liars of the last half-century, Clifford Irving (Richard Gere), who wrote the unauthorized autobiography of Howard Hughes and conned McGraw Hill into giving him piles of money to do so, counting on Hughes's famous reclusiveness to protect him and his hoax.
The film is based on Irving's fictional account of the events - this is a project that works toward an almost Zen level of fraudulence - which includes the implication that Hughes was actually feeding Irving information from behind the scenes to get at Richard Nixon. Given the levels of paranoia that both Nixon and Hughes operated on, this is not impossible.
The key to the film is Irving's desperate improvisation; his reaction to getting caught in a lie is to top it with an even bigger one. Gere is brilliantly cast as Irving, even if he's technically too old for the part. (Irving was in his early 40s when these events took place, and Gere is almost 60.) Gere is a chronically insincere actor and thus a problematic romantic lead, but if you're looking for someone you want to believe but shouldn't, there's none better.
Hallström and his team do a good job with the period recreation, catching the mixed-message quality of the early 70s: the hippie hangover infecting the world of business, the panelling in suburban dens. Irving himself hangs out in a 50s dream of "the American writer," a country place that has a separate house where he writes.
The fun thing about The Hoax is that as it piles up bizarre moments and improbable coincidences of the "if I saw that in a movie I wouldn't believe it" sort, you have to believe it because so much of it has been documented.
Except, of course, for the parts that haven't.