One of my favorite movies is a one most people haven't seen, the true life-based drama Shattered Glass, starring Anakin Skywalker - I mean Hayden Christensen - as journalist Stephen Glass, who famously made up a bunch of stories to make himself famous. With that in mind, I was drawn into seeing The Hoax, a Richard Gere-starring drama with a similar theme, even though it didn't look nearly as good.
The Hoax is a true story (how true, I don't know) about journalist and writer Clifford Irving, who managed to trick a major publishing house into paying him a million dollars for a groundbreaking biography based on personal interviews with billionaire recluse Howard Hughes, a man who hadn't been seen in public in years. The only problem is that Irving never actually spoke with Hughes to get his permission, and in fact his entire piece of work is based on fabrications.
The Hoax is one of those movies where it's hard to fathom them ever being true. How a man could think that he'd get away with writing a fake biography about someone still alive - especially with someone as many resources as Howard Hughes - is pretty unbelievable. And furthermore, to risk everything by running up a publishing company for a million dollars in the process? And yet, Clifford Irving did it. That alone makes The Hoax worth watching.
Unfortunately, the movie in general is lackluster. This absurd story of deception is intriguing, but director Lasse Hallström (The Cider House Rules) really didn't know how to engage the audience. The movie is fast paced, but the scenes seem breezy and unsentimental. Unlike in Shattered Glass, where the film depicts its title character as a troubled man obsessed with being liked and popular, there is no real character development here to make us care strongly for anyone one way or another. Gere isn't particularly memorable, as his character just seems more like an idiot or a cheater than someone who has deeper reasons to put himself on the line. Why should I watch a movie where the main character evokes no emotion one way or another?
The supporting cast is relatively wasted. Alfred Molina plays Irving's right hand man, but for such a good actor his character isn't especially developed or interesting. It is never really explained why he goes along with the plot at all, and even when he speaks up against what Irving is doing, he never actually takes action on it. Marcia Gay Harden, who for a while seemed to have been popping up at award shows all over the place, really hasn't chosen a challenging or intriguing character since 2003's Mystic River. Other than creating a Swiss bank account with a fake name, she doesn't have much to do here.
Overall, The Hoax is easy enough to watch, and it does have its moments. Still, it's no surprise that this movie came and went without much of a marketing push, as it just doesn't have the guts to elevate it above what it is - a small, forgettable quasi-real drama.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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