The Hoax is a strange little movie that made very little impact when it came out in April last year. Telling the true story of Clifford Irving (Richard Gere), The Hoax details how Irving convinced editors at McGraw Hill that he was writing the authorized biography of reclusive businessman Howard Hughes. The ruse works because Hughes, as detailed in the much less enjoyable The Aviator, had become reclusive by the end of his life, and hadn’t spoken to the press in years.
The plot summary of The Hoax sounds a bit dry, and I think that’s why very few people saw it and talked about it. After all, how much fun can a movie be about a fake book? One can imagine the type of publicity the film would have received had it been made shortly after Irving’s actual ruse, which at the time was a tremendous public event; years later, Irving’s hoax is just one of the many Stephen Glasses of the world.
What makes The Hoax worth watching is the way director Lasse Hallstrom transforms the movie from a light-hearted buddy caper flick in the movie’s first three quarters, into a dark exploration of a paranoid man who ultimately achieves the fame he so desired, but not quite in the way he had hoped. Gere is quite good, but it’s Alfred Molina who steals the show, and it’s his character, as Irving’s best friend who is along for the ride, that ultimately makes the movie’s darker moments feel significant. As Irving descends deeper into the hoax, and his own paranoia, Molina’s character (as well as Irving’s wife) pay the cost.
The Hoax is ultimately a far more interesting move than it initially appears, because its shift in tone mirrors what pulling off one of these deceptions must feel like – a light thrill at the beginning leading to utter despair in the end. It’s a fascinating study of the thirst for fame and friendship and very much deserves a place on your netflix queue.