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THE HOAX

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Richard Gere, Alfred Molina, Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis, Julie Delpy, Stanley Tucci
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Miramax
Features: See Review
Length: 115 Minutes
Release Date: October 16, 2007

“The more outrageous I sound, the more convincing I am.”

Film ***1/2

By now, we’ve all become familiarized with the journalism scandals involving frauds like Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair. But no other writer pioneered this art better than Clifford Irving, a charismatic author who fooled both the public and the book-publishing world in the early 70s. Irving’s fraudulent misadventures are at the centerpiece of the furiously entertaining film, The Hoax.

Irving (Richard Gere) stuns both a major book-publisher and a popular magazine when he announces to them that he has been appointed by none other than Howard Hughes to write the man’s biography. As Irving puts it, “I’m working on the most important book of the 20th century”. Of course, none of this is true, but even as Irving acknowledges this, he has enough confidence in himself to think he can somehow pull the whole thing off.

And if you’re familiar at all with the eccentric Hughes and his behavioral history, Irving’s scheme does come across as somewhat genius. Hughes, of course, was a reclusive who never came out of hiding and was plagued with paranoia. In Irving’s mind, Hughes will be too paranoid to tell his advisors about the book and when published, won’t come out of hiding to denounce the book.

So he goes to work digging up whatever information he can get his hands on. Irving enlists the help of his researcher, Dick Suskind (Alfred Molina), to help in gathering any information on Mr. Hughes. Of course, that means breaking into an office and stealing confidential documents. Molina is priceless in this role, delivering some major laughs as a more straight man to Irving’s charlatan antics.

And how does Irving prove to the publisher that he has even interviewed the man? He starts impersonating the man after watching news footage of him and records himself on audiotape as if he was auditioning for the part of Howard Hughes in a feature film. One thing you’ve got to commend Clifford Irving for is his willingness to go as far as he could with such a hoax.

I mentioned in a recent review that Richard Gere grew on me as an actor. When he started taking roles that didn’t have to rely on his good looks, he became a much stronger presence on film. And his energetic charisma as the energetic charismatic Clifford Irving is one of the actor’s best performances yet. Gere brings to light the cockiness and charm that made Irving tick, especially in scenes where it appears he may have gotten caught in a lie, only to bluff his way out without even flinching.

In addition, Gere’s performance makes you root for Clifford Irving in an unexpected way. Of course, what he did is very unethical in the writing world, and yet you can’t help but want this hustler to achieve the impossible. Another element that helps in rooting for Irving is that compared to other acts of fraud committed by people, his acts aren’t so harmful…unless your name happens to be Howard Hughes or Richard Nixon (watch the movie to find out the connection).

Directed with efficiency by Lasse Hallstrom, from a dynamic screenplay by William Wheeler, The Hoax is a marvelously recount of perhaps the first big scandal to rock the writing world. You may be stunned to find out that the movie itself is adapted from a book written by the actual Clifford Irving. How ironic is that?

The Hoax is a terrifically acted and superbly written film, and one that really works on so many different levels. And although it’s something of a cautionary tale about the consequences of fraud, it adds up to so much fun!

Video ****

The picture quality, courtesy of Miramax, is thoroughly bright and lively from beginning to end. The 70s setting seems incredibly authentic. No noticeable image flaws at any point and the presentation boasts some truly rich and vivid colors. Top-notch all the way!

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix is a solid one, if only serving that of a dialogue-oriented film. Occasional 70s rock tracks make their way onto the soundtrack, and all sound fantastic. Dialogue delivery is as crystal clear in delivery as it gets.

Features ***

Some neat features on this release, starting with two commentary tracks; the first with director Lasse Hallstrom and screenwriter William Wheeler, the second with Hallstrom and producer Joshua D. Maurer. Also included are two brief but well informative featurettes; “Stranger Than Fiction” and “Mike Wallace: Reflections On a Con”. Lastly, there are Deleted Scenes with optional director/writer commentary, as well as one Extended Scene, titled “Business as Pleasure”.

Summary:

Rarely have I had so much fun seeing someone trying to fool the world. The Hoax is a real winner, with fantastic performances by Richard Gere, Alfred Molina and the rest of the supporting cast. If you are as unfamiliar with this story as I was, you’ll have a blast watching this elaborate hoax unfold.

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