×

The Hoax

"The Hoax" fearlessly wades through the slippery psychology of a shameless liar -- writer Clifford Irving -- who sold a bogus "autobiography" of Howard Hughes to McGraw Hill and came close to pulling off the publishing scam of the century. Lasse Hallstrom's breezy pic rep a marketing challenge for Miramax in U.S. release next April.

With:
Clifford Irving - Richard Gere Richard Suskin - Alfred Molina Andrea Tate - Hope Davis Edith Irving - Marcia Gay Harden Shelton Fisher - Stanley Tucci Nina - Julie Delpy

“The Hoax” fearlessly wades through the slippery psychology of a shameless liar — writer Clifford Irving — who sold a bogus “autobiography” of Howard Hughes to McGraw Hill and came close to pulling off the publishing scam of the century. Lasse Hallstrom’s breezy, fast-paced, somewhat loose-ended account of how he did it offers a surprisingly layered vehicle for a maniacally conniving Richard Gere, backed up by a superb Alfred Molina as his accomplice. Though it marks a much-needed expansion of Gere’s repertoire beyond the romantic lead he has continued to play well into his 50s, this complex loser’s role marks pic as a marketing challenge for Miramax in U.S. release next April.

Overseas distribs will have to face not just the hurdle of selling a tale about the long-forgotten Irving, but also won’t have the comfort of a large-size Hughes myth to draw on. Their only choice will be to present the film on its own irregular merits. On the plus side are a fascinating, stranger-than-fiction story and many tensely comic scenes in a darker second half that breaks into multiple narrative and thematic facets as the film strains to be about not just about a man, but about an era in America, without fully succeeding.

Still, for Hallstrom, this is a move in the right direction after the unhappy trio of “The Shipping News,” “An Unfinished Life” and “Casanova,” all of which represented a sharp drop-off from the critical and box office success of “Chocolat” and “The Cider House Rules.” Here the recipe for combining the director’s European free spirit with American storytelling techniques and rhythms is a happier blend, with the added spice of Nixon-era political corruption and a critique of national greed and self-deception.

William Wheeler’s script, based on Irving’s own tell-all book, which came out after he served a two-year jail sentence for fraud, taps into both Irving’s and Hughes’ colorful lives. There is more than enough plot to go around, and events race by so swiftly the film demands a good amount of concentration to keep abreast.

It’s late 1971, with Vietnam and protest marches dominating the news. But the politically charged times, underscored by newsreels and catchy period music, pass by unnoticed for egocentric, bright-eyed author Irving, about to sell a new novel to McGraw Hill through his icy inhouse publisher Andrea Tate (Hope Davis). When the deal falls through, a crestfallen Irving recklessly blurts out that he is writing “the book of the century,” without a clue as to what it is.

Inspiration attaches itself to his foot — Howard Hughes on a magazine cover — in the makeshift studio of his wife, Edith (Marcia Gay Harding), a hippie painter of no great talent but deeply in love with her philandering mate. They have reconciled after he broke off with his mistress, the beautiful and amoral European baroness Nina (a comically dippy Julie Delpy.) Thus begins the theme of personal trust and betrayal, which will be skillfully intertwined with the main Hughes plot.

A third thread arrives in the pudgy form of Irving’s best friend and loyal researcher Dick Suskind (Molina). Almost as a joke, they start to fantasize about convincing Irving’s publishers he’s in Howard’s good graces and has been chosen to co-author the billionaire’s memoirs.

Some of the film’s most enjoyable material revolves around Irving’s chutzpah and daring in persuading an army of suspicious McGraw Hill suits, headed by a deliciously greedy Shelton Fisher (Stanley Tucci at his understated mightiest).Mistrust farcically battles with raw greed as they eye Irving’s forged letters from “Howard,” desperately wanting to believe they’re real but afraid of being taken for a royal ride.

In the end, greed wins out or, as Irving rationalizes it, “a man who says something completely implausible will always be believed.” At every credibility hurdle, he ups the ante, forcing the publishers to pay the unheard-of sum of $1 million to Hughes (i.e., himself) for rights to his story.

Meanwhile, the two lovable swindlers, who are writing up a storm based on illegally procured documents, succumb to panic attacks that have them racing down the McGraw Hill backstairs, followed in their dizzy flight by a vaulting hand-held camera. Though rarely laugh-out-loud comedy, scenes like these roll off the screen like perfectly directed clockwork.

Last part of the film sinisterly suggests Irving was himself the victim of a much larger hoax on the part of the man he was writing about, who used him to force President Nixon to ease antitrust laws and save TWA, which he largely owned. Going even further, it speculates that Nixon’s paranoia over what might be in Irving’s book motivated the Watergate break-ins.

Gere, his hair cut and darkened like the historical Irving, is strongly on key with the bravado and euphoria of the early scenes, creating a likable rogue whose bloated ego has nowhere to go but down. When reality starts hitting the fan and his lies come back to haunt him, he keeps up a bold front while mentally disintegrating.

Molina is a constantly strong comic note as the red-cheeked researcher who nearly has a heart attack carrying out Irving’s wild schemes, yet whose touching faithfulness to his own wife (never seen in the film) contrasts effectively with the wandering of his weak-willed friend. Harden is similarly balanced between a spaciness and her very real feelings of betrayal. They make the most of Wheeler’s amusing, down-to-earth dialogue.

There is much in Hallstrom’s complex direction that recalls a past master of mirrors and deception, Orson Welles. Apart from the obvious parallel between Hughes’ enormous behind-the-scenes power, which rivalled that of the government itself, and that of Charles Foster Kane, another link is Welles’ “documentary” “F For Fake,” where the real Irving appears telling his story.

Tech work creates a strong feeling for the ’70s, with credit going to all hands, but especially to the expressive and varied lensing by Hallstrom’s regular cinematographer Oliver Stapleton, and to Carter Burwell’s delightful soundtrack, which becomes central in establishing time and mood.

Popular on Variety

The Hoax

Production: A Miramax Films release of a Bob Yari Prods./Mark Gordon Co. presentation of a Hallstrom/Holleran production in association with City Entertainment. (International sales: Syndicate Films Intl., Los Angeles.) Produced by Gordon, Leslie Holleran, Joshua D. Maurer, Betsy Beers, Yari. Executive producers, Anthony Katagas, Gary Levinsohn. Co-producers, Erin Eggers, Suzanne Patmore Gibbs. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom. Screenplay, William Wheeler, based on the book by Clifford Irving.

Crew: Camera (color), Oliver Stapleton; editor, Andrew Mondshein; music, Carter Burwell; music supervisor, Tracy McKnight; production designer, Mark Ricker; costume designer, David Robinson; sound (Dolby/SDDS/DTS), Allan Byer; supervising sound editor, Brian Langman; casting, Laura Rosenthall, Ali Farrell. Reviewed at Rome Film Festival (Premiere), Oct. 14, 2006. Running time: 115 MIN.

With: Clifford Irving - Richard Gere Richard Suskin - Alfred Molina Andrea Tate - Hope Davis Edith Irving - Marcia Gay Harden Shelton Fisher - Stanley Tucci Nina - Julie DelpyWith: Eli Wallach, Zeljco Ivanek, John Carter, Christopher Evan Welch, Peter McRobbie, John Bedford Lloyd, David Aaron Baker.

More Film

  • Jon Favreau'The Lion King' film premiere,

    Jon Favreau 'Holding Out Hope' for Spider-Man to Remain in the MCU

    Spider-Man’s potential exit from the Marvel Cinematic Universe could throw a wrench in Happy and Aunt May’s relationship, but Jon Favreau is “optimistic” the love affair will continue amid Sony’s dispute with Disney. “You never know what’s going to happen. I’m holding out hope and being optimistic that this isn’t the final chapter of the [...]

  • Cara Delevingne'Carnival Row' TV show premiere,

    Cara Delevingne Talks Immigration, Taylor Swift's Battle With Scooter Braun

    Cara Delevingne, whose faerie character in “Carnival Row” finds herself washed ashore as a refugee in a foreign land, said she was immediately drawn by the show’s fantastical take on issues of immigration and assimilation. “It’s a cause that I have been involved in for a long time,” Delevingne told Variety at the premiere of [...]

  • John Travolta, Fred Durst. John Travolta,

    John Travolta Recalls Fans Breaking Into His House: 'I Was Scared the First Time'

    Nobody can accuse John Travolta of not being gracious to his fans, whether it’s an autograph, a selfie or, you know, a home invasion or two. “I’ve only had two people that actually invaded my house,” Travolta told Variety at the premiere of “The Fanatic” at the Egyptian Theater on Thursday night. “They were just [...]

  • Romulus TV Show Italy

    Behind the Italian Scenes on Upcoming TV Blockbuster 'Romulus'

    On a hilly patch of greenery outside Rome, a group of extras is milling about in a meticulously reconstructed eighth century B.C. village wearing leather sandals, coarse red tunics and baseball caps. It’s scorching. The set is on a vast backlot on the grounds of the Cinecittà World theme park where during a period of [...]

  • James Wan's Horror Pic Adds George

    James Wan Finds Male Lead for His Next Horror Movie (EXCLUSIVE)

    British actor George Young has landed the male lead role opposite Annabelle Wallis in James Wan’s top secret horror pic, sources tell Variety. Wan is tackling the movie, tentatively titled “Silvercup,” this fall before beginning preparations for DC’s “Aquaman” sequel with Jason Momoa at the top of 2020. Plot details are currently being kept under [...]

  • Catch-22 Cinecitta BTS

    Rome's Cinecitta Makes Major Upgrades to Soundstages, Backlot

    Italy has always been attractive as a location, and now that increased global TV and film production is filling up soundstages around Europe, Rome’s Cinecittà is gunning to regain its global status as a top studio. The fabled facility, located on 99 acres of public land, had lost some of the luster of its 1950s [...]

  • Francis Ford Coppola Apocalypse Now BTS

    Why Everything About 'Apocalypse Now's' Production Was Unorthodox

    Lionsgate and American Zoetrope are releasing “Apocalypse Now Final Cut,” the third version of Francis Coppola’s 1979 war epic, to commemorate the film’s 40th anniversary. While multiple versions of any mainstream movie are unusual, everything about this movie was unorthodox. On Oct. 14, 1969, Variety reported that Warner Bros. bought the script by John Milius, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content