Truth and consequences play out in ‘The Hoax’

Carly at the Movies column by Carl Larsen

I’m not sure why we humans are fascinated by fakes, crackpots, con men, charlatans and snake oil salesman of all ilk.

Maybe it’s because the rest of us are so dull. But for whatever reason, our interest is doubled when the crackpot is also a billionaire.

Richard Gere plays hoaxmeister Clifford Irving in “The Hoax,” a dramatized retelling of the book manuscript that buffaloed McGraw-Hill, Life magazine and most of America back in the Nixon era simply because it was supposed to be the autobiography of billionaire crackpot Howard Hughes.

With Alfred Molina playing his trusty sidekick, Gere presents Irving as a charming rogue, and he must surely have been one to convince all those big shots that the famous recluse, Hughes, would spill all his personal beans in a tell-all book.

The film is tremendously entertaining and, of course, has the audience pulling for the flim-flam man from the get-go. As the scam becomes more and more difficult to manage, Gere admits, “Lying gives me a headache.” As well it should, for his publishers become skeptical about the authenticity of the manuscript, and each time our anti-hero is cornered, he simply tells a bigger and bigger lie.

Richard Gere’s career has perked up considerably in recent years. With “Unfaithful” in 2002, “Shall We Dance?” in 2004 and now “The Hoax,” it’s obvious he’s making smart role choices and is becoming the thinking man’s hero as he approaches 60. A neat guy.

Top-shelf director Lasse Hallstrom employs a gimmick that worked well for the Joe McCarthy character in “Good Night and Good Luck.” He presents the famous Howard Hughes only in archival footage, adding realism to the bubbling bottle of snake oil that Gere is selling. Showing only the real Hughes in newsreel footage makes an interesting contrast to the way he’s previously been portrayed in movies such as Leonardo DiCaprio’s take on him in “The Aviator” (2004) and Jason Robard’s version in “Melvin and Howard” (1980).

Tommy Lee Jones also gave an interesting interpretation of the fabled old looney in “The Amazing Howard Hughes” on TV in 1977.

Marcia Gay Harden is very good as Irving’s wife, and the supporting cast of publishing world folks is fabulous: Hope Davis, Stanley Tucci and John Carter are alternately duped and dubious as McGraw-Hillites.

This interesting flick is currently playing at the Visulite Cinema in Staunton. It’s genuine grown-up entertainment.

Meanwhile, Back at the Dixie:

Besides the upscale just-a-dog-and-his-fireplug called “The Firehouse Dog,” we’ve got to recommend “The Lookout” sight unseen. From all the talk this film has created, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Jeff Daniels are said to be absolutely marvelous in that rarity, a character-driven action adventure.

Perhaps the best film playing in the area, and on my must-see list once it rolls out in wide distribution.

 

Carl Larsen is a regular contributor to The New Dominion. Look for his At the Movies column on Mondays.

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