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June 21st, 2006:
In 1970, authors Clifford Irving (Richard Gere
) and Richard Suskind (Alfred Molina
) meet while visiting Spain and devise an inconceivable scheme to make a sizeable profit. Having done extensive research, Irving writes an unauthorized autobiography of the reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes – not without its share of embellishments and outright fabrications. Aided by impeccable, forged documents, he convinces publishing company McGraw-Hill that he has a genuinely close relationship with Hughes, and successfully signs a lucrative distribution deal for his manuscript. Naturally, when the bogus book comes out, experts immediately question its authenticity, but McGraw-Hill stands by their author. Irving’s plan is carried out so persuasively that even when Hughes momentarily emerges from seclusion to address the media in a telephone news conference and discredits the book, McGraw-Hill continues to support him. Following lengthy investigations and total media frenzy, Irving must eventually fess up to his crime.What to Expect:
Whenever a Lasse Hallström
film is getting released, it is probably for Miramax
and it usually marks the end of the year award season. Hallström is a reputable Swedish director now typically working on bittersweet, eye-candy American productions like What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Cider House Rules, and Chocolat. It is therefore a little surprising to see him dabble with a project that will probably play out with a touch of comedy and intrigue, unlike the touching human dramas he usually approaches. However, The Hoax does look like it could go on to become one of his best received films in years, if not ever. After The Shipping News, An Unfinished Life, and Casanova, three consecutive commercial and critical disappointments, Hallström is looking to bounce back with another Oscar contender. Article continues below
Starring in the director’s dramas tends to be quite beneficial for the actors involved. Leonardo DiCaprio
, Judi Dench
, Juliette Binoche
, and Michael Caine
have all received Academy Award nominations for their collaborations with Hallström, with Caine winning one for his portrayal of the loving orphanage director. After flirting with a possible nomination for his performance in Chicago, Richard Gere seems to have found a role that should certainly get him some attention. He has had a checkered career, but his selections have improved as of late. The role of Clifford Irving is precisely the type of part that wins over audiences, and if done well, could result in some nominations for the actor. Alfred Molina (Frida, Spider-Man 2, The Da Vinci Code
) re-unites with Hallström for another attempt at a statuette after working with the director on Chocolat. I like his chances over Gere if he can deliver a clever little performance in support. Then again, any one of the three excellent actresses, namely Hope Davis
, Julie Delpy
, and Marcia Gay Harden
, could sneak away with a nomination. Finally, in a fascinating bit of casting, the 90-year old Eli Wallach
, known best as Tuco, “the Ugly” one in Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, will play Noah Dietrich, Hughes’ former chief executive officer.
The trajectory of the storyline seems to bare some resemblance to Catch Me if You Can, which recounted the story of infamous forger and impersonator, Frank Abagnale Jr. The Hoax is also based on a captivating true story and loosely adapted from Irving’s own book under the same title. By the late 1950s, Hughes had completely closed himself off from the outside world, reemerging only sporadically either to discredit reports about him or to buy out writers who were working on his biographies. Depending on which rumor one believed, he was either insane, terminally ill, or already dead and replaced by an impersonator. Irving and Suskind were betting that perhaps Hughes would no longer care and researched all available information on the isolated mogul. Irving learned to imitate Hughes’ handwriting, a skill that he later used to forge letters to McGraw-Hill and to sign contracts. He bargained his deal up from $500,000 to $765,000, with only $100,000 designated for him and the remainder for Hughes. Of course, all of the money went to Irving’s Swiss bank account anyway, deposited by his wife Edith. Late in 1971, the author gave McGraw-Hill the first manuscript, complete with notes in Hughes’ forged handwriting, which were certified as authentic by a graphologist. As initial suspicions from those close to Hughes began to surface, McGraw-Hill authoritatively stood by their author. An outside firm of handwriting experts was brought in to investigate the writing samples, once again declaring them genuine. Irving became the subject of severe scrutiny and had to submit to a lie-detector test, all the while Hughes remained quiet. Finally, after weeks of silence, the billionaire stated in a telephone news conference that he had never even met the man. Irving contended that the voice belonged to some imposter, but when Edith’s bank deposits were investigated, the hoax had unraveled. The author confessed to the crime on January 28th, 1972. He and Suskind were indicted for fraud and found guilty on June 16th that same year. Suskind spent 5 months in jail, carrying out most of his 6-month sentence. After serving 17 months, Irving was released and continued to write books, some which went on to become bestsellers.
To help get a perspective on what type of a character Irving is here is one of his recent quotes: “I had nothing to do with this movie, and it had very little to do with me.” That’s very interesting coming from someone who is listed in the credits as a technical consultant. There’s a ton of potential here for a complex character study and a fascinating tale about reality and deception. That’s why I’m slightly concerned that Hallström might play out this outrageous story without the energy that it demands, transforming it into a rather shapeless picture in the process. I hope he will be able to adjust from his melodramas and avoid those syrupy moments that could make a bore out of an otherwise fun premise.In Conclusion:
The Hoax sounds like ingenious entertainment and it is easy to see why it has been positioned for the year-end award season. A couple of years ago, The Aviator introduced Hughes’ back story and Scorsese’s sprawling, although somewhat conventional (for him) take on the legend. Now, The Hoax will explore some of the circus that always surrounded and followed the tycoon, while concentrating on a small, but audacious historical figure. Hopefully the film will give sufficient insight into the characters. If it does, it is sure to become the biggest hit for either Hallström or Gere in many years.Similar Titles: Catch Me if You Can
, The Sting