2007Director: Lasse Hallström
Cast: Richard Gere, Hope Davis, Marcia Gay Harden
t’s been a long time coming. I’ve really been through the mill in recent times: Shall We Dance?, The Mothman Prophecies, Autumn in New York, The Jackal. I have been there. I have witnessed it all. Sure, it’s been a waste of a life, largely my own but also maybe Richard Gere’s. However, it’s been worth the wait, the constant feelings of regret and inadequacy are quickly forgotten. Finally, Richard and I can walk down the street, hand-in-hand, our heads held high, our noses (prosthetic or otherwise) at a proud sway: The Hoax is a good movie. That’s right, Rich—we’re back.
Richard Gere is a fine actor. Or, at least, his presence on screen is an enjoyable one when the conditions are right. Caught somewhere between Paul Newman and Tom Cruise, Gere is an idiosyncratic performer. He doesn’t disappear within a role, but rather floats along its surface with a blinking boyish charm. In his latest film, he plays the literary huckster Clifford Irving. The author’s exploits were devilishly treated in Orson Welles’ sleight-of-hand masterpiece, F For Fake. However, Hallström does a cracking job in reclaiming the tale as his own and turning Irving’s web of lies into a top grade thriller. The director, who has sadly become some sort of second-tier hack, has conjured up the Jacob’s Ladder of publishing: every tentative step the viewer takes is on a shaky rope-bridge being sliced at the other end by the gleefully misdirecting storyteller.
For those unaware of Irving’s money-spinning prank, let’s re-cap: the failing author, complete with Hemingway-complex and ridiculous self-belief, approached publishing giants McGraw-Hill with the astounding news that the notorious recluse and American icon Howard Hughes had asked him to write his authorized autobiography. A total fabrication, of course. However, Irving was banking (and cashing in) on the fact that Hughes had not spoken publicly for 15 years and could not appear in a US court to denounce him as he would be handed a $137 million fine relating to his TWA empire. During the course of his research for the book, Irving allegedly received a package from Hughes himself, providing exclusive material that would sink Richard Nixon, a man whom Hughes had hoped would be his political lap-dog, now refusing to do tricks.
Irving seems to have created an arena he was not fit to compete in, a shady realm of deceit much more suited to the politicians he was hoping to ensnare. Hughes finally “appears” on national television as a voice, revealing Irving to be a fraud, thus ensuring Nixon owes him a favour. This debt is duly paid: the magnate’s hefty fine is cancelled and new aviation contracts are offered. The truth is in there somewhere but it’s been so brutally savaged that no-one can stand to look it in the eye. The film stretches a little too far, but enjoyably so, suggesting that Nixon broke into the Watergate hotel looking for proofs of the book that may have fallen into the hands of the democrats.
Far more emotionally compelling than Spielberg’s jaunty Catch Me If You Can and simply more fun that Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind, The Hoax is a complex but simply told story of slight madness and complete delusion. A glorified yarn of an irresistibly charming man, the film is a pleasurable experience largely due to Gere’s impressively buoyant performance at the centre of the storm. So convincing is he as Irving—and so convincing as Irving was Irving—that the audience, who must put their faith in someone, rely on a totally unreliable figure to carry them through the narrative. At the film’s close, we cannot even be sure if some of the scenes we’ve been shown actually took place, the credibility of the protagonist so much in doubt.
This film seems to have passed by unnoticed; a shame for a fine supporting cast that includes a sobbing Alfred Molina, who may deserve more than becoming the next Oliver Platt. Beyond some convincing period design and a pleasingly varied visual texture, Hallström doesn’t stand in the way of the compelling narrative, focusing on the meaning and power of individual scenes in the correct assumption that together they will weave a credible whole from a credulous story. Screenwriter William Wheeler, whose only previous credit is the Mamet-like The Prime Gig, should be congratulated for the relentless pace but careful dénouements: that most delicate and difficult balance determining the success or failure of the thriller.
The Hoax, at last, recovers the Richard Gere of Breathless, American Gigolo, and Internal Affairs—a fine, old fashioned kind of star who simply requires a good script and fine direction to ply his charm and work his magic.
The Hoax is currently in limited release, and will be released on DVD in October.