Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Hoax

Movie name: The Hoax
Year of release: 2006
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Stars: Richard Gere, Alfred Molina, Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis, Julie Delpy, Stanley Tucci, Eli Wallach, John Carter, Christopher Evan Welch, Zeljko Ivanek
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Lasse Hallstrom finally manages to shake off the mantle of the “prestige” film and creates a gripping, challenging and ultimately rewarding film with “The Hoax”, anchored on two great performances from Richard Gere and Alfred Molina.

Lasse Hallstrom is a filmmaker that has had a long career in Hollywood, one that has been connected with Miramax and so called “pretigious/art” films, that ultimately and invariably have failed to deliver results that live up to the expectations. Having started his American career with the interesting “Once Around” which was followed by the quirky and still his best film to date, “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?”, his career has been prolific, but rarely consistent in the delivery of truly memorable films. You can check this in the list of films that he has directed in the last couple of years, namely “Something to Talk About”, “Chocolat”, “The Shipping News”, “An Unfinished Life” and “Casanova”. The only exception to the list may be the interesting “The Cider House Rules” which boasted a great cast (as it is usual in his films), and a terrific screenplay based on the John Irving book.
“The Hoax” happily joins the ranks of his good films, boasting as usual a terrific cast and a screenplay that is extremely well written (based on the autobiography of Clifford Irving).
The film introduces us to Clifford Irving, a writer, in the process of selling his new book, something that goes wrong once early reviews come up and destroy all his chances of doing so. Desperate to find a new project, Clifford comes up with the idea of writing an autobiography on reclusive and eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes. He gets the help of fellow author and researcher Dick Susskind, and sets out to sell his pitch to McGraw-Hill. Once the first suspicions emerge (via an agreement with Life Magazine), Clifford manages to keep up his elaborate charade by sending Dick on an elaborate trip to create the sense of plausibility (which is helped by fake letters that he writes). Eventually Clifford manages to sell the book for 1 million dollars, whose check is issued in the name of Howard Hughes, therefore impossible for him to withdraw. At this point Edith Irving, his wife intervenes, creating a solution for the situation, one that requires fake passports and a Swiss bank account. The whole charade is eventually blown up when Howard Hughes comes forth, denying any involvement in the autobiography.
If the story almost looks surreal, watching the film is totally engrossing – Richard Gere perfectly captures the seedy allure and enthusiasm that Clifford Irving had. It was above all his capability of manipulating people that sold the pitch, the story, that Howard Hughes was actually choosing him to write his autobiography (as it is mentioned in the film, he was a minor author). Lasse Hallstrom intelligently creates (with the aid of his usual collaborator, cinematographer Oliver Stapleton) a sense of the reality of the 70’s, of the discomfort with Nixon’s policies, and the way how faking and even taking official documents from the Pentagon(!) were so uncomplicated. The screenplay unravels with delight and precision, watching the web of lies that Clifford creates, lies in which he progressively becomes more and more tangled in, something that the audience realizes there is no way out for him.
Hallstrom manages to show a depth to Clifford Irving beyond the trickster and charlatan, something that is displayed in the way that Irving impersonates Howard Hughes and answers his own questions. Irving is a lost man, desperately reaching for something that reality keeps denying him.
The cast of the film really excels in their compositions, starting with Richard Gere. With the aid of a fake nose, Gere imbues the character with a charm but also vulnerability that makes Clifford Irving more sympathetic and not just a “slimeball” (as the real Clifford Irving was quoted when he saw the film). Alfred Molina and his Dick Susskind end up stealing the movie whenever he shows up – his are the fears, insecurities of an every day man. His ambitions are moderate and with his twitches, sweats and awkward reactions, he is the embodiment of someone who just got on a game way beyond their capabilities. Hope Davis and Marcia Gay Harden are terrific as usual and Julie Delpy and Stanley Tucci deliver reliable performances as is expected from them.
“The Hoax” proves to be a good surprise, in the sense that is a film that is simultaneously entertaining, challenging and ultimately rewarding for the viewer.