I preface this review with that quick anecdote because it was indicative of the movie that followed. “The Hoax” was seamless, well-acted, and above all, intriguing to watch.
The film tells the story of struggling author Clifford Irving, who schemes to sell a fabricated autobiography of Howard Hughes. In making it as genuine as he possibly can, he attempts to see the world from Hughes’ twisted perspective while keeping his dishonest project afloat with his publishers.
Richard Gere, who plays Irving, has the fascinating task of showcasing his facility with impressions, then melding that with his talent as an actor, since, at times, he plays a character who plays at being Howard Hughes. His character is consumed by his own lies, self-destructing as they become more and more implausible, unable to come clean even though he knows what a relief it would be to do so. The lengths to which he goes to keep his hoax alive are both hilarious and unnerving.
That is another of the film’s strengths. Even though it takes itself seriously, and rightly so, it easily gets a laugh whenever it needs to. Much of the humor relies on the fact of Howard Hughes, on his circumstances, and how people who are not remotely in his life are affected by him.
Alfred Molina, as Irving’s friend Dick Susskind, enlivens their scenes together, and provides an anchor for the audience later on, as Gere’s character loses touch with reality and morality. Although both characters are bothered by their consciences, only Susskind is bothered enough.
Though the film lags on brief occasions, and the audience may find it hard to sympathize with the main character as the story draws to a close, it remains a worthwhile movie. After all, a character doesn’t have to be likeable to be interesting, and it is fascinating to watch Gere’s Clifford Irving as he increasingly confuses his reality with one in which he matters to Hughes, a reality in which his lies are justified.
Since the film is based on actual events, people who remembered this when it happened are especially likely to enjoy this behind-the-scenes portrayal of what became a major media story. Ultimately, the material here is approachable and well worth watching if you’re in the mood for a low key, humorously dramatic character movie.