“Hoax,” reviewed by Susan Granger

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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 he’s 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 His job becomes easier when he and Suskind secretly copy an unpublished tell-all manuscript written by long-time Hughes’ associate Noah Dietrich (Eli Wallach) and, mysteriously, receive incriminating Hughes files in the mail.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 Irving’s own tell-all book, William Wheeler’s script elicits empathy, if not sympathy, by linking Irving’s 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 it’s 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 Irving’s 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.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.