People tend to believe what they want. Some
assholes get giddy just at the possibility of something bad
happening to an enemy, and then try to find every reason to
believe it's true. But people also want to believe the best
for themselves. That's where con artists come in. They take
advantage of people so fucking stupid that they'll believe good
things just fall into their laps. Psychics work because people
want to buy their shit, not because they have any supernatural
powers. Get-rich-quick late-night-no-money-down real estate
scams succeed because dumbasses want to believe it's that easy.
And morons believe shitty movie critics who act drunk just because
their poor vocabularies make them sound like "men of the people."
The Hoax is about a smooth-talking con
artist who exploits people by saying what they want to hear.
It is based on the true story of Clifford Irving (Richard Gere),
a struggling writer who, faced with mounting debt and a deep
need to feel important, claimed to have the exclusive rights
to reclusive, nutjob billionaire Howard Hughes' autobiography.
Of course, he didn't. He had never even met him. And he had
no evidence to suggest he did, except a few forged letters.
Publisher McGraw-Hill wanted very badly to believe
him, though. They wanted it enough that they shut their ears
to all sorts of evidence to the contrary, and didn't bother
doing any diligent verification. If we close our ears and
wish hard enough, it'll come true. So, like a good con man,
Gere takes advantage of people by making them complicit in the
Along the way, Gere, who is also a philanderer,
lures his sad-sack best friend (Alfred Molina) into his scheme
as his chief researcher, and his wife as a forger who goes to
Switzerland to cash the checks that are supposed to be for Hughes.
What makes The Hoax pretty damn good
is not Richard Gere. Not really. I mean, he's all right, but
it's pretty damn hard to buy him as a struggling, New York Jew.
No, what makes the movie is the direction by Lasse Hallstr–m,
who appears to take the source material by Irving himself, and
relate with a hell of a lot of skepticism. In real-life, Irving
is a guy who wrote a book about an art forger and then a fake
autobiography, so it makes a lot of sense to make him as unreliable
a narrator as the harelip at 2:15 a.m. on the day rent is due.
In fact, portions of the story are clearly bullshit, and Gere's
portrayal of Irving is unsympathetic. Really, he's an asshole
who will fuck over anyone and then tell them a lie to get what
What's fascinating is how everyone around him
is not much better. They go along with his scheme, because they
want to believe, or they want him to like them. As the noose
tighten, he squirms and schemes even deeper. It's fun in the
same way that it is to watch the Harelip squirm when you point
out her lies; that she has never flown in a spaceship, that
she didn't pay back the money she borrowed last month, not even
in kruggerands left on your doorstep, and that she never had
your lovechild. Eventually, it all blows up, and the Harelip
yells, "Fuck you," and either spits or vomits on you. It's worth
it, though, just to hear the stories and see how far she'll
spin it when she's desperately trying to get something.
And so is The Hoax. Greed allowed such
a crock of shit to get all the way to being published, to having
Nixon feel threatened by the fictitious book's contents, and
to forcing Howard Hughes out of hiding to declare the book a
hoax. Molina, although complicit, is the most sympathetic character.
He is emotionally needy and has remorse for the scam because
it isn't something he would have done. Gere is a little too
oily, I think. This Irving had to have been slick, but Gere
makes him so slick that I don't see how so many people would
care what he thinks. Hallstr–m's direction keeps it moving.
I was amazed at how involved I was in a story that's clearly
part bullshit and clearly just about publishing a book.
Four Fingers for The Hoax.