Danville Express

Living - April 13, 2007

Movie review

The Hoax


Rated: R for language. 1 hour, 56 minutes.

(Century 16, Century 20) Fans of the riveting 2003 film "Shattered Glass" now have a powerful bookend to emphasize the dangers of escalating deception. The message is clear: Woe be to those who pile lie upon lie for the sake of pay and prestige.

Literary aficionados are likely well aware of the early-1970s "hoax" that had author Clifford Irving (Richard Gere) penning an apparent autobiography of reclusive tycoon Howard Hughes. Irving's ill-fated idea indirectly led to President Nixon's Watergate scandal and threw the ambitious author into a downfall of debt, divorce and jail time. Taking Irving from the brink of narrative stardom to the bane of charlatan notoriety, the author's cautionary tale is a captivating cinematic experience.

It begins in 1971, as Irving suffers the news that a promising book deal has crumbled. But the struggling writer finds inspiration in the paint-spattered newsprint beneath one of his wife's (Marcia Gay Harden) many art pieces - an article about Hughes. Bing! A light bulb all but hovers over Irving's head as he begins to concoct plans for a faux "autobiography" about the isolated billionaire.

Enlisting the aid of his friend and fellow author Richard Susskind (Alfred Molina), Irving quickly masters Hughes' penmanship and vocal inflections, and soon has an over-eager publishing company throwing $1 million his way for the rights to "the book of the century."

Not so fast, Cliff. Despite expert (and often underhanded) research, Irving and Susskind lack the key component - consent. This must be what it feels like to bite off more than you can chew.

Director Lasse Hallstrom ("The Shipping News") crafts a thoroughly engaging slice of celluloid, a taut and entertaining glimpse of recent history. Gere and Molina deliver superb performances, backed by a stellar supporting cast that includes Harden, Hope Davis ("American Splendor"), Stanley Tucci ("The Devil Wears Prada") and Julie Delpy ("Before Sunset"). It's both fascinating and frightening to witness Irving's rise and fall, as all the actors involved display an intense emotional investment to the tale.

Although the picture's pacing lulls at times, the core intrigue, multi-dimensional characters and top-notch portrayals make up for any fleeting drags. "The Hoax" is by far one of the most compelling films of 2007.

Would I lie to you?

- Tyler Hanley


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