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Only Liars and Billionaires Win in The Hoax

  • Lisa Rice Contributing Writer
  • 2007 4 Apr
  • COMMENTS
Only Liars and Billionaires Win in <i>The Hoax</i>

DVD Release Date:  October 16, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  April 6, 2007 (limited), April 13, 2007 (wide)
Rating:  R (for language)
Genre:  Drama/Adaptation/Biopic
Run Time:  118 min.
Director:  Lasse Hallstrom
Actors:  Richard Gere, Alfred Molina, Hope Davis, Marcia Gay Harden, Stanley Tucci, Julie Delpy, Eli Wallach, and John Carter

There are many films out there that inspire us with stories about the influence of one great person and how they changed society.  The Hoax is not one of them.  In fact, it’s the story of the widespread influence of two men of dubious character whose trickery, deception and control wielded scary levels of influence over companies, presidents, and the American public of the 1970s. 

Though the plot is mildly interesting and the filmmakers do a good job of creating tension, The Hoax leaves audiences with a slimy feeling and a cynical assurance that gifted liars and powerful billionaires do win out in the end.

The movie opens with a building being evacuated and a group of executives at McGraw Hill Publishers scurrying around, awaiting an important helicopter landing on the roof.  Clifford Irving (Richard Gere) smiles and says, “There he is. I knew he’d come.”

We then flash to “Four months earlier,” where we find out the story behind just who might be in that mysterious helicopter. 

It’s the late 1960s, and Andrea Tate (Hope Davis), a top exec at McGraw, has just told Clifford that his new book manuscript will not actually be published because Life Magazine hated it.  It’s too bad, too, because Clifford has just purchased a trophy car for his wife, Edith (Marcia Gay Harden) in advance celebration of his victory.

To lick his wounds and figure out a new strategy, Clifford goes to the Bahamas with his friend, Dick Susskind (Alfred Molina), a researcher and writer himself, who urges Clifford to stop living so big and heroically and get some rest.  That night everyone gets kicked out of the posh Britannia Beach Hotel they’re staying in because billionaire Howard Hughes wants the pool to himself.

As Clifford rants and fumes about it to his wife, a painter, he steps on a magazine about “The Secret World of Howard Hughes” and gets an idea.  Why not go to McGraw Hill and tell them that he has an exclusive deal to write Hughes’ autobiography? Dick is terrified, but Edith loves the plan, and Clifford works his persuasive charm on Andrea, fully convincing her and her associates that it’s real and will be “the best book of the century.”  He signs a million dollar deal with the publisher and begins his research.

Meanwhile, he reconnects with his old mistress, Nina (Julie Delpy), whose charms he can’t resist, but it’s actually no problem, he reasons, because Clifford Irving is a professional liar who knows he can convince his wife of his innocence.  He tells Nina of his secret plan after one of their trysts. Clifford and Dick scramble to pull their information together, stealing data from the Library of Congress, the Department of Defense, and some former top execs from Hughes’s Toolco.

As he goes, rumors start to pop up that Irving’s book just might not be authorized. Again, Clifford’s not worried, though, because everyone knows that Hughes is an eccentric psychotic, and his denials are all part of the agreed upon plan.  All seems to go well for a while, but soon McGraw President Shelton Fisher (Stanley Tucci) gets some phone unsettling phone calls that call into question everything Cliff has purported.  He’ll have to do one scrambling, convincing acting job if his grand hoax is to have any chance of working.  If things go wrong, however, they could affect not only the publishing industry, but the career of President Nixon and the trust of the American public.    

The Hoax does have its good points, including some great historical footage of various happenings of the late 60s and 1970s, including the Vietnam War and protests, President Nixon and his speeches, old Coca-Cola commercials, senate hearings with recordings of Howard Hughes, and some old Beatles’ tunes.

The problem is that the movie has a way of making you feel bored and anxious at the same time.  You’re worried that this con artist will be caught at any moment, but the action is not quite riveting enough to hold your complete interest and make you root for the protagonist.

Speaking of which, the protagonist is such a slime-ball and such a professional liar that you’re really hoping he’ll get caught.  But even when some truths do surface, the scumbag effortlessly, smoothly makes things work out for himself – both relationally and professionally. 

The language in The Hoax is deplorable.  There are probably sixty foul words in the film, many of them strong obscenities and profanities. There’s also nudity, adultery, lying, cheating, stealing, and conning, many of which are never rebuked, and the consequences of which are often minimized. 

In the end, save your entertainment dollars.  Or better yet, spend them on a worthwhile film like Amazing Grace and learn about William Wilberforce – a man who did change society for good through his efforts to abolish slavery in England.

AUDIENCE:  Older teens and up

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Alcohol portrayed in several scenes.
  • Language:  Excessive, with about 60 obscenities and profanities.
  • Sex:  Extra-marital affair shown, with upper female nudity.
  • Violence:  Old footage of Vietnam and protests.
  • World View:  Cynical. The clever can just about get away with anything, and the filthy rich can control presidents, nations, the economy, and the public.