The Hoax is the real thing.
It's a breezy, engaging caper. It's like a heist film of the 1970s, but the pilferers are literary men not bank robbers.Set in the early '70s, The Hoax rediscovers one of the essential themes of that era -- it is anti-establishment.
That is a theme that has been absent from our society for many years. It shouldn't have been; it's still quite relevant, isn't it?
The Hoax is based on real-life shenanigans. In 1972 Clifford Irving burst upon the literary scene as the writer whom reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes had chosen to pen his autobiography.
There were little means to authenticate Irving's claim that Hughes had chosen him. Irving said that Hughes was totally incommunicado, except to him.
The meetings between Hughes and Irving were a secretive process. Supposedly Hughes had established an ironclad set of rules that kept scrutiny at bay -- or so said Irving.
And Irving had forged a letter from Hughes that gave him authorization.
As the publishing hounds bit at his heels, Irving kept changing his strategy to stay a tantalizing step ahead of them. He led them on a breathless romp.
A few years ago Shattered Glass (2003) was one of the best movies of the year. It too was about literary fraud and the writer who perpetrated it, Stephen Glass of The New Republic.
But Shattered Glass and The Hoax differ drastically. Shattered Glass portrayed the hoaxer as an amoral punk who violated personal trust. He was a weasel.
The Hoax portrays its hoaxer Clifford Irving as an ebullient conman who violates a greedy system. His criminality is so high-spirited that we enjoy his outrageous maneuvers. He is a fox.
It's Irving against the system, and we empathize with Irving. Anti-establishment lives!
The director of The Hoax is Swedish-born Lasse Hallstrom. He is a bittersweet humanist, who once made such fine movies as My Life as a Dog (1985), The Cider House Rules (1999), and Chocolat (2000).
Hallstrom has been on a down cycle, but The Hoax brings back his heady ability to mix drama, comedy and social comment.
Hallstrom -- who in his past films got Oscar nominations for four of his actors and actresses -- has a gifted cast in The Hoax. He deftly guides them through agile paces.
The WMDs (Writers of Mass Delusion) -- Irving (Richard Gere) and his sidekick Dick Suskind (Alfred Molina) -- have great chemistry together. Think Bush and Gonzales.
Gere is credible and engaging as the conniving Irving. But the actor who steals the movie is Alfred Molina as Irving's buddy and researcher Dick Suskind. Molina is a savory stew of fitful exuberance and nerve wracked anxiety. He should be Hallstrom's fifth nominee for an Oscar.
The rest of the cast is effective. Marcia Gay Harden is Irving's wife, Hope Davis plays Irving's editor at McGraw Hill and Eli Wallach is Noah Dietrich, a former aide to Howard Hughes. All are first-rate.
Julie Delpy is luminous as Irving's mistress Nina Van Pallandt. The actual Van Pallant gave a provocative performance in Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye.
The clever screenplay of The Hoax was written by William Wheeler, from a book by Irving. The look of the picture is enhanced by Hallstrom-veteran cinematographer Oliver Stapleton.
The Hoax, although set in the early '70s, is piquantly relevant to today's celebrity-driven, politically-contrived culture.
The fact that a movie stays on the shelf for more than a year before it is released -- as did The Hoax -- almost always means it is a bomb. But in this case, The Hoax is an exception.
This review is not a hoax. It really is a good film.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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