The Hoax


"I hate, detest, and can't bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appalls me. There is a taint of death, a flavor of mortality in lies, -- which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world -- what I want to forget."
Marlow in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

"Liar, Liar, pants on fire!" or something like that. We Catholics have been taught never to lie in about the same way we were warned that masturbation leads to blindness. Well, liars anyway seem to do quite well, thank you, if you consider the WMD president still rules.

Thus, Lasse Hallstrom's entertaining Hoax, about one of the twentieth century's consummate liars, Clifford Irving, is a comedy that makes the fabricator of The Autobiography of Howard Hughes an endearing rogue rather than a crook he was. Given Irving wrote that fabrication at the time of Richard Nixon's descent, I suppose those larcenous con-men were just two of many who thrived in the '70's.

In fact, in the '60's flourished the impersonator Frank Abagnale, played by Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me if You Can, and in the '90's Stephen Glass (Hayden Christiansen) in Shattered Glass fooled many a smart newspaper publisher with his faux articles. Most of these miscreants have been lionized by film, or at least made attractive with attractive stars playing them and stories attracting our abiding interest in anti-heroes who fool the establishment.

Richard Gere's Irving is not as disarming as Leo's Abagnale and maybe a better performance for that lack of charm. His Irving launches the Hughes hoax by successfully forging Hughes' letters and somewhat awkwardly but successfully convincing McGraw Hill to publish a work that, if it weren't for the greed of all involved, should have been certifiably faux, notwithstanding the first-rate forgery. For, although Hughes was notoriously reclusive, and maybe insane, he would most likely never have authorized the work.

Although most of the film fulfills the early claim that it's "based on actual events," the latter part emphasizes a link to Watergate that seems questionable a best. Otherwise, the depiction of the mistakes made in publishing and the personal losses for Irving seem authentic and logical given the times and the eccentric billionaire, who himself seemed to be waiting for someone to peal away his privacy.

The Hoax, better than most docudramas, shows what Irving claimed, that "a man who says something completely implausible will always be believed."