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April 2007


By Melissa Walters


Distributor: Miramax Films
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Screenwriter: William Wheeler
Producers: Mark Gordon, Leslie Holleran, Joshua D. Maurer, Betsy Beers, Bob Yari
Cast: Richard Gere, Alfred Molina, Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis



Based on the true events reputed to have been the impetus for the Watergate break in, The Hoax recounts the story of Clifford Irving’s infamous rise to fame as the author of an unauthorized biography of the reclusive Howard Hughes.

The film stars Richard Gere as Irving, an author struggling to revitalize his career, who conceives a plan to author the biography of the eccentric multi-millionaire. Believing that Hughes would never overcome his disdain for public scrutiny to denounce the authenticity of his work, Irving presents executives at McGraw Hill with forged handwritten notes, allegedly authored by Hughes, endorsing Irving as the exclusive biographer of Hughes’ choice. After a handwriting expert deems the handwritten exemplars forged by Irving as authentic, McGraw Hill enters into a half a million dollar contract with Hughes for the exclusive. Irving designates himself to act as the intermediary for Hughes who characteristically refuses to be seen or heard.

Irving, as manipulative as he is inventive, engages fellow author, Richard Suskind (Alfred Molina), as his “literal” partner in crime. Together, they assume great risks to obtain non-public information about Hughes that only those personally acquainted with Hughes could possibly possess. Faced with ever mounting challenges to “prove” his relationship with Hughes, Irving manages to continuously outwit his skeptical publishers, including Shelton Fisher (Stanley Tucci), and incredulously extract greater financial gain in the process. As fate would happen, Irving’s scheme is not derailed by Irving’s cunning mistress, Nina Van Pallandt (Julie Delpy), Irving’s emotionally fragile wife, Edith Irving (Marcia Gay Harden), or by Suskind himself in retaliation for Irving’s betrayal of trust. Nor was Irving’s success thwarted by the efforts of certain political forces mobilized to bury the book rumored to contain details threatening Nixon’s administration. Rather, Irving’s fall from grace was consummated by Hughes himself, who makes his final public appearance in the course of congressional hearings and repudiates the authenticity of the book.

With The Hoax, Lasse Hallstrom redeems himself from the disappointment of 2005’s Unfinished Life. While the film’s outcome is not a surprise, Hallstrom manages to unfold historical events through the eyes of his complex character; with a mounting tension that keeps the audience riveted until the end. Gere, one of the few actors whose range permits him to deliver as convincing a performance as a corrupt officer as he can a romantic good guy, was outstanding. Molina also shined despite the moodiness of his character and he continues to demonstrate great promise of one day progressing to a leading role. Strong supporting performances by Stanley Tucci, Eli Wallach and Marcia Gay Harden also contribute to the success of this film.

Irving himself has denounced the accuracy of William Wheeler’s screenplay. Nevertheless, any artistic license can only inure to Irving’s benefit; for the well written screenplay combined with the fine performances by veteran actors in the film will undoubtedly generate a renewed interest in Irving’s book.