The Huge Hughes Scam
In the early 1970s writer Clifford Irving came up with an audacious con, to make it seem like the reclusive and eccentric Howard Hughes had got in touch and asked him to write his autobiography. When the truth came out Irving ended up being sent to prison for fraud but then subsequently wrote a book all about the con, it was called "The Hoax" and this is what "The Hoax" is, an adaptation of his book but by accounts one which takes a few liberties with Irving's version of what happened. What that means is that "The Hoax" is a little similar to "Catch Me if You Can" in that we witness how Irving pulls off the con of making everyone believe he is writing Hughes' autobiography and it is both entertaining and fascinating. But it is also a messy movie, with subplots which end up distracting from the main story and an eclectic style which at times feels confused.
Frustrated when his latest manuscript is turned down by publicists McGraw-Hill and desperate for money, Clifford Irving (Richard Gere - Bee Season) comes up with an audacious con. Not only is he going to write an autobiography of eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes but he is also going to convince everyone that the reclusive millionaire has been a willing party to this book. With the help of researcher Dick Suskind (Alfred Molina - The Da Vinci Code) they go about getting the dirt on Hughes by stealing documents whilst also faking letters and recordings to trick the bosses at McGraw-Hill that in fact he has Hughes's help.
I am sure it's human nature but when you know something is a con you want to know how it was done, it's like wanting to know how a magic trick is done and so discovering how Clifford Irving with the help of his wife and children's author Dick Suskind went about not only writing a fake autobiography of Howard Hughes but convinced everyone that it was legitimate is fascinating. We get to see not only how he came up with the idea that with Hughes not only being a recluse but also embroiled in the TWA issue at the time he wouldn't want bad publicity by calling Irving a fake. And we watch how he goes about getting the information on Hughes life, copying documents, faking letters as well as recordings. And it is all so very entertaining because the more outrageous it becomes, the more blagging which Irving does the more entertaining it gets.
But of course whilst the mechanics of the con are entertaining this sort of movie also has to have a penalty, you do the crime you serve the time. So we see how Irving becomes affected the deeper and deeper the lie becomes to the point of paranoia and betraying his friends in order to keep things going. Now how much of this is truth I cannot say but I know the real Clifford Irving felt the movie distorted what really happened and I am sure it did not only to make it flow more easily but also to bring in drama which will keep audiences entertained.
But the thing is that "The Hoax" at times feels a little messy because alongside the main storyline we have a subplot about Irving being tempted to cheat on his wife again having only just got his marriage back on track. And there are other subplots which whilst padding it out don't seem to go anywhere. That is not the only issue as director Lasse Hallstr├Âm also serves up a variety of styles, suddenly throwing different camera angles and colour schemes at us which feel at odds with the rest of the movie. I wouldn't say it was experimental but in trying to be visually different to establish certain aspects it doesn't quite work.
What does work though is Richard Gere as Clifford Irving because he gets the character spot on, the quick thinking, smooth talking trickster who behind the cool exterior is a nervous wreck. There are numerous great scenes for Gere but two stand out, his panicking run down a fire escape when he believes the con is over and when he is regaling the publicists with his meeting with Hughes, having them and us on the edge of our seats lapping up every word of this lie. It is a great performance from Gere and an equally good one from Alfred Molina as Dick Suskind delivering the more openly nervous character with some subtle comedy. And if that wasn't enough "The Hoax" also features Marcia Gay Harden, Julie Delpy and Eli Wallach all of which have smaller parts but all of which deliver entertaining characters.
What this all boils down to is that if like me you enjoy seeing how cons are done then "The Hoax" will be right up your street as it delivers not only the mechanics of Clifford Irving's con but does it in an entertaining way. It's not perfect, issues with subplots and styling unfortunately spoil things but not only does Richard Gere deliver an impressive performance but the whole con itself is simply brilliant.