Directed by Lasse Hallström
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 115 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
Release Date: October 16, 2007
Review Date: October 11, 2007
The incredible fraud that author Clifford Irving almost successfully pulled off against the McGraw-Hill Publishing Company in the early 1970s makes for fascinating historical drama in The Hoax. In this day of instant celebrity and privacy an almost unheard of commodity, The Hoax takes us back to a time when pulling off a scam concerning a major celebrity seemed much more possible than one would ever think could happen today. Those of a certain age will remember vividly many of the events that are told in detail here. For younger viewers, it’s an amazing true story of a master con job that almost worked.
In 1970, author Clifford Irving (Richard Gere) was scratching out a living writing fiction that either sold poorly or couldn’t even find a publisher. So angry is he over his latest rejection by McGraw-Hill that in revenge he decides to mastermind a supposed authorized autobiography of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. Thinking Hughes’ isolation from the world for the past fifteen years a safety net that will allow him to write, publish, and sell such a book, Irving goes about gathering what facts he can from those who have had the last contact with the notoriously private eccentric. Helping him in fashioning his hoax is children’s author Richard Suskin (Alfred Molina) who’s more successful than Irving but tiring of dealing with the censorship demands of the children’s book market.
The script by William Wheeler does an excellent job in showing Irving as a combination of carnival barker, snake charmer, and actor. And as the potential money harvest of such a book begins to generate really large sums of cash, for the first time Irving feels what it’s like to taste success on a grand scale. Forget that it’s all based on a lie; the score to him is everything, and he indulges in a new car, fancy dining, and a quick reunion with his former mistress Nina (Julie Delpy), a decision he’ll one day regret especially as his jealous, suspicious wife Edith (Marcia Gay Harden) begins keeping a closer eye on him than usual since she senses (obviously more than he does) what dangerous quicksand he’s attempting to traverse with this scam.
Richard Gere is definitely the star of the film, but it’s not a leading man performance. Instead, he’s delving more deeply into character than he has in quite a while, and it’s terrific work. It’s particularly fascinating when he assumes Hughes’ identity and speaks into a tape recorder mimicking Hughes giving an interview which is later transcribed by Suskin as if it were the genuine article. Alfred Molina as Suskin is around to provide a comic edge to the story, and we see him fall victim to greed wanting a richer taste of the money pie and then turning miserably guilty and useless when things start to go wrong. Marcia Gay Harden affects a middle European accent that must be true to the character of Edith Irving but often sounds more like mumbling. The great Eli Wallach has a memorable cameo as one of Howard Hughes’ former acquaintances while Stanley Tucci, Hope Davis, and Zeljko Ivanek play well the McGraw-Hill executives duped by Irving.
Director Lasse Hallström keeps Irving’s amazing juggling act going with beautifully paced scenes, and when then-President Richard Nixon’s part in the entire affair comes to light (unbelievably, there was a definite connection to Hughes going back decades that the revelation of Irving’s fraud brought to light and added fuel to the fire of his imminent impeachment), the film rises to an even greater level of interest and astonishment. Only a few poorly presented scenes that blur reality with fantasy mar what is otherwise a wonderfully produced drama.
The film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio is accurately captured in this anamorphic presentation. Unfortunately, the film’s sharpness varies only between average and slightly above average, and contrast has been upped a notch to better match some archival footage that’s been edited into the film. With this added contrast, though, color often seems plugged up and unsatisfying. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is well recorded, but the audio mix is front heavy not leaving much for the rear channels to do but support some music. Even the few sound effects like an approaching and hovering helicopter that could have been channeled into the rears have not been leaving them virtually silent for much of the picture.
Two audio commentaries are available on alternate audio tracks. The first and lesser of the two is by director Lasse Hallström and writer William Wheeler. They have pertinent information to impart, but their halting way of talking and the long pauses keep interest lagging. Much better is the delightfully upbeat conversation between producers Leslie Holleran and Joshua Maurer. The two commentaries do complement each other well, neither repeating information being offered by the other.
“Stranger Than Fiction” is a 9-minute featurette in 4:3 giving some background on Clifford Irving but truly telling nothing that the film doesn’t already offer up. Clips from Mike Wallace’s two 60 Minutes interviews with Clifford Irving held thirty years apart are contained here, but, of course, we long to see the entire interview segments rather than the tiny excerpts that are in this feature.
“Mike Wallace: Reflections on a Con” is 4½ minutes of reminiscence by the renowned newscaster on his encounters with the infamous Clifford Irving. Some of the interview snippets here are also in the previous featurette making this one seem woefully lacking in content. Again, if the entire interviews with the man could have been included, the feature would be much more viable.
Six deleted scenes presented in nonanamorphic video can be watched with or without commentary from director Lasse Hallström and writer William Wheeler. In his commentary, the director mentioned that there was almost an hour more of film in his first cut than what ended up in theaters (and on this DVD). This is a small sample of some of the cut footage. All of it seems unnecessary when viewed here. The running time amounts to around 13 minutes.
One extended scene from the film, also nonanamorphic, runs 6½ minutes, an overly indulgent improvisational riff on the written scene which ends up in the finished film. Again, wiser and cooler heads prevailed when this scene was trimmed of its excess verbiage.
The DVD offers trailers for National Treasure: Book of Secrets, The Invisible, Eagle Vs. Shark, Becoming Jane, Golden Door, and No Country for Old Men. The trailer for The Hoax has not been included though it is present on other recent Buena Vista releases.
Like the superior Good Night and Good Luck, The Hoax takes a true event from the fairly recent past and spins an engrossing tale that often captures one’s imagination. It’s a film worthy of one’s attention though its presentation here is not top flight.