DVD Review: The Hoax
Release Date: October 16, 2007
· Lasse Hallström
· Richard Gere
· Alfred Molina
· Marcia Gay Harden
· Hope Davis
· Julie Delpy
· Stanley Tucci
· IMDb: The Hoax
by R.J. Carter
Published: October 16, 2007
Richard Gere plays the 20th century's most notorious literary conman, Clifford Irving in Miramax's "The Hoax." The thing to keep in mind while watching these events unfold is that the story is based on Irving's own autobiography chronicling the events, which puts the viewer in the untenable position of having to choose when and/or if to believe components of how the big lie occured, as related by the liar who originally told it.
The film opens with Irving meeting with a team of editors from McGraw-Hill, including Andrea Tate (Hope Davis), as they discuss his previous book, Fake (ironically a nonfiction piece about an art forger). The editorial pool is presented as a group of puff-minded faux literati who operate on the pretense of knowing what a book is about that they obviously never read. Irving is trying to sell them his newest novel, Rudnick's Problem, and all indications are that it's a done deal.
When a post-celebratory Irving later discovers that the book deal is a no-go, he frantically begins looking for a new project to keep the cash coming in. After walking in on a McGraw-Hill meeting, promising the "book of the century," he returns home to brainstorm for ideas with his wife Edith (Marcia Gay Harden) and Dick Suskind (Alfred Molina). That's when Irving tumbles to the idea of writing the autobiography of eccentric recluse Howard Hughes.
It should have been the perfect scam. Irving had access to samples of Hughes' handwriting (the billionaire magnate never communicated with anything other than handwritten memos). Together, he and Suskind even broke into the Pentagon and successfully absconded with documents about Hughes' aviation contracts! Hughes was infamous for never confirming nor denying rumors, and so Irving felt safe that no denial of the autobiography would come.
Publishers Shelton Fisher (Stanley Tucci) and Harold McGraw (John Carter) swallow the idea hook, line and sinker, and Irving and Suskind manage to convince even journalists who had interviewed with Howard Hughes in the past.
And that's when elements of the story start to get seriously hinky. Irving and Suskind fly to Las Vegas to interview a crony of Hughes, who happens to have his own manuscript of events. They photocopy this, and use it to fuel their own novel. Later, Irving receives a mysterious package, postmarked Nevada (Howard Hughes territory, purportedly) that is full of file folders, including information that ties Hughes to donations to Nixon. For Irving, it's a sign that Hughes is secretly cooperating with him, in an effort to bring down a corrupt administration. In fact, the numbers in the file are supposedly so accurate that the White House wants to kill the book. They're worried that the Democratic Party might also get a copy of Irving's work, and authorize a team to break into the Watergate Hotel to find out! Yes, the movie states unequivocally that Irving's scam was the first domino to fall of the Watergate scandal.
Partners in Crime. Irving and Suskind have a parting of the ways.
(L-R: Gere, Molina)
It's entertaining to watch, as Gere perfectly portrays a convincing conman, going to great lengths to continue to keep one step ahead of his publishers every time they start to get a whiff that things aren't kosher. Ultimately, though, what Irving ends up succeeding at is drawing Howard Hughes out of seclusion for a famous speaker-phone television interview, in which he denies any knowledge of Irving. However, the story is also disorienting in places, as Irving becomes separated from reality, at times seeming to channel Howard Hughes for his fake taped interviews, and hallucinating InterTel agents abducting and interrogating him.
Bonus features on this release include a nine minute documentary, "Stranger Than Fiction," in which 60 Minutes journalist Mike Wallace is joined by director Lasse Hallström, screenwriter William Wheeler, and actors Gere, Molina and Harden, as they talk first about the actual event and then the making of the film. The segment includes clips of Wallace interviewing Irving then and now.
There are thirteen minutes of six deleted scenes, with optional commentary by Hallström, followed by a six minute extended scene of Irving and Suskind relating their fictional meeting with Hughes to editors over a posh dinner.
The final featurette is a four minute segment called, "Mike Wallace: Reflections on a Con," in which the journalist talks more in-depth about his encounters with Clifford Irving.
The bonus features menu also hides an easter egg. Navigate over to the image of the microphone, and a Republican elephant will become visible. Clicking this brings up a screen of Irving's tape recorder. Press play, and be serenaded with a four-minute rendition of "Nixon's the One." It will take hours to get this out of your head.
The feature presentation includes two commentary tracks, the first one with director Lasse Hallström and screenwriter William Wheeler, the second with producers Leslie Holleran and Joshua Maurer. It seems the producers missed the obvious boat on this one, however, in not bringing in Clifford Irving himself to provide a commentary track -- now that would have made this thing a real seller.
Audio is available in either English or Spanish, with optional subtitling in English, Spanish, or French.
Previews on this disc include "National Treasure: Book of Secrets," "No Country for Old Men," "The Invisible," "Eagle vs. Shark," "Golden Door," and "Becoming Jane."