An intellectual property caper fueled by the smarmy deceit of Richard Gere and Alfred Molina, The Hoax is an enjoyable character piece before splitting personalities in the last act.
We've seen the Oscar-worthy austerity of The Aviator, in which Leonardo DiCaprio takes on 20th century superstar Howard Hughes. The Hoax tells a different Hughes story--this one focusing on his late-age dementia and shifting the perspective to a hard-bargaining, instinctively dishonest writer named Clifford Irving (Gere). With a comically inept co-writer/researcher, Dick Susskind (Molina), Irving purports to a top publisher that he has established a rare letter-writing rapport with Hughes--and he wants to publish Hughes' words in an autobiography. But indicators he's lying through his teeth start showing right away when Irving's facts don't add up. Clifford and Dick squirm and dodge questions for almost the movie's entire two hours. Based on real events, we know the outcome (Irving eventually spent two years in prison for fraud), but The Hoax still allows the events to unfold for maximum entertainment value.
Gere taps into his Pretty Woman slickness but subverts himself into a morally depraved sociopath. The actor is a natural charmer onscreen, and audiences benefit when his character is a stone-cold liar. But it's Molina, recently seen as the villainous Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2, who is the true stand out. As Dick Susskind, Molina flexes his indie muscles. He's the confused, compromised and ultimately innocent opposite to Gere's black-hearted amorality. And hilarious, without intending to be. In fact, both Gere and Molina act more as a Laurel and Hardy comic team than anything else. Indie darlings Marcia Gay Harden and Julie Delpy speckle the landscape as morally abused lovers, as Irving's wife and mistress respectively, while Hope Davis shows up as a whip-smart editor who nonetheless gets snowed by Irving. Kudos to all involved.
The Hoax is another enduring adult comedy in the growing stable of independent studio Bob Yari Productions, which has also released The Illusionist and The Painted Veil in the past year. Yet, The Hoax subtleties can be soley attributed to Lasse Hallstrom, one of Hollywood's most-appreciated directors for films such as The Cider House Rules, Chocolat and What's Eating Gilbert Grape. Hallstrom keeps The Hoax's pace lively in the first two acts, which adds intrigue to what could be an average story. But then the third act unravels into a darker tone, with fear, hints of violence and history pulling The Hoax into a harsh ending. The 1970s-era movie is a timely film, where political shams and false biographies dominate the headlines and never feels irrelevant and outdated. Camera framing, interiors and costumes of that era are dutifully recreated on a modest scale (not with the same showiness of Zodiac) but understated and believable. The Hoax is worth your time--no lie.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 1/2 stars.