Clifford Irving was sort of
a footnote in history, but he was also a fascinating contradiction. He
was charming and yet he was a user. He was a brilliant writer and yet
he had no scruples towards journalistic ethics. He was a fearless
charlatan and yet he was always afraid of getting caught. He was the
writer of an autobiography — and it wasn't about him. He led directly
to the journalistic scandals like Steven Glass. He believed in the
sanctity of words and yet he sprouted lies. He was sane and at the
same time dangerously delusional.
His specific crime — and
at the same time his defining artistic moment — was selling and writing an
autobiography of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. Of course the
fact that he never met the man or even spoke with him was a problem, but not
one that couldn't be overcome with a lot of charm, imagination and a certain
way with bullshit.
The Hoax does drop
some hints that perhaps there may be some truth to his claims, that perhaps
the Hughes Corp did use him as a patsy. Then again, this movie was
based on the book written by Irving on the subject, so there is an agenda
there. Also, of course, Irving was always able to spin a good yarn.
And that is what The
Hoax is — one hell of a fine yarn.
Richard Gere plays the man
as a basically good, moral man who truly believes he is doing the right
thing. He is just pushed by circumstance and financial hardship into
working this angle. Even so, he tried to keep it on the up and up.
He made the book as true to the real world as he could possibly could.
He truly had convinced himself that Hughes was just a great conduit to get
his writing out.
The Hoax feels like
one of those great lost movies from the 70s, where good people do morally
questionable things and drag others into the morass. It is full of
intrigue, back room deals, cons and rationalization.
And, to paraphrase Henry
Kissinger from about that same time in history, it has the added benefit of
being mostly true.
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Posted: May 4, 2007.