Do you remember when con artist Clifford Irving shamelessly sold a fraudulent autobiography of aviation industrialist Howard Hughes to McGraw-Hill publishers in 1971? That audacious literary hoax is the crux of this story.
After hopes were dashed for his latest novel, Irving (Richard Gere) with the help of his researcher/co-writer Richard Suskind (Alfred Molina) tells his agent (Hope Davis) and publisher (Stanley Tucci) that hes been contacted by elusive billionaire Howard Hughes to reveal his inside story, producing adroitly forged hand-written documents to allay their suspicions. Since Hughes is so notoriously reclusive, Irving figures that no one will know the truth about his fabricated exclusive interviews. His job becomes easier when he and Suskind secretly copy an unpublished tell-all manuscript written by long-time Hughes associate Noah Dietrich (Eli Wallach) and, mysteriously, receive incriminating Hughes files in the mail.
Based on Irvings own tell-all book, William Wheelers script elicits empathy, if not sympathy, by linking Irvings deceit with Watergate, the downfall of paranoid President Richard Nixon, by revealing Hughes secret payoffs to Nixon fund-raiser Bebe Rebozo. Director Lasse Hallstrom (Casanova, The Shipping News) cleverly intercuts news clips of the powerful Hughes, whose shrewd, manipulative eccentricities were explored in depth by Martin Scorsese in The Aviator.
Credit Richard Gere for making an audacious anti-hero appealing, although its difficult to spend two hours knowing that this likable pathological liar is, inevitably, going to be exposed and sent to jail. While Alfred Molina is convincing as the comic foil/moral compass, Marcia Gay Harden and Julie Delpy are less effective as Irvings suspicious European wife and seductive Nina Van Pallandt, respectively. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Hoax is a deceptive 7 – yet relevant because it cleverly parallels contemporary media scams and government cover-ups.