There’s truth behind ‘Hoax’ 

And ‘Grindhouse’ is exploitastic.

GERE: At his best in "Hoax."
  • GERE: At his best in "Hoax."

If there’s one thing you learn very quickly being a reporter — other than where the coffeemaker is and the best place to buy a cheeseburger — it’s that nobody can lie like a desperate man. Butcher, baker or candlestick maker, a man in trouble can get downright artful with his lies. Worse, if he’s half smart, he’ll make you believe them.


A mix of desperation and artful lies is the roux that helps make “The Hoax” such an interesting film. A movie about how far a person will go for success — not even success: respect — it delivers a fine-pointed message on the very real mental dangers awaiting those who monkey with the truth.


Based on a true story, “The Hoax” is the tale of Clifford Irving (Richard Gere, in what might be his best performance in a decade), a mid-list author whose novel just went down in flames at New York publisher McGraw Hill. Desperate to keep his foot in the door, Irving and his researcher, Dick Susskind (Alfred Molina), spend days racking their brains, trying to come up with the next non-fiction blockbuster. Finally, in a fit of desperation, Irving hits on a seemingly impossible scheme: Fake the autobiography of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes, who hasn’t spoken to the press in 15 years.


Soon, he and Susskind have convinced themselves that it will work. Hughes has recently been hit with a $150 million judgment by former shareholders of his airline, TWA. Hughes won’t show his face in public for fear of being served with a subpoena, they reason, and if he does, his protests against the book will simply be taken as the ravings of a lunatic. With a series of letters forged in Hughes’ hand, Dick and Irving have soon landed a million-dollar advance on the book. As they rush toward its completion, hounded by shadowy Hughes agents, their friendship — and eventually their sanity — begins to crumble.


Funny at times, frightening at others, “The Hoax” turns out to be a fine example of film, tracking both a thriller’s switchbacks and a tragedy’s heroic arc. Best of all is Gere’s careful depiction of Irving’s slow descent into the which-way-is-up world that all prodigious liars soon find themselves in. After awhile his lies even make the jump to the screen, so that the audience is left not knowing if the things they are seeing are real or just more of the lies Irving has told to keep himself sane. Though the Hughes character never makes a screen appearance, his paranoia and sense of conspiracy infect the main characters like a disease. The result is very watchable film -– a slow-motion train wreck, involving characters you’ve come to like if not quite love.


— David Koon



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