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The HoaxThe Hoax
a review by Tom Condon, OP

Using film clips of Richard Nixon, the Vietnam War and bizarre fashions to set its tone, The Hoax takes us back to1971 (how many of you remember bell bottoms and polyester?).  The Hoax is largely set in the publishing industry where typewriters pound away.  (Remember those?) At first, America in the 70’s seems like another universe.  However, as the story unfolds, with its theme of loss of integrity, the differences between  then and now diminishes considerably.  

The Hoax tells the true story of Clifford Irving (Richard Gere), a struggling writer who comes up with the notion to write the unauthorized biography of the most mysterious man of his era:  the reclusive millionaire Howard Hughes.  Irving fabricates an entire scenario in which Hughes has authorized him to write his life story.  Hughes and Irving have never met nor have they ever communicated at all.  Irving produces letters from Hughes, complete with forged signatures, demanding huge advances.  Amazingly, the publishers fall for Irving’s scheme, meeting his financial demands and astonishing even Irving himself.  Like P.T. Barnum, Irving plays the publishers for suckers, becoming bolder and more outrageous each and every step of the way until the scheme inevitably collapses.  Gere gives a fine performance -- bluffing his way through high level meetings in the publishing world.  As the plot unfolds and Irving’s scheme begins to unravel, Irving’s behavior comes to mirror Hughes itself.  Irving imagines meetings between himself and Hughes, and becomes a recluse in the basement of his house as he works feverishly to finish his book.

The HoaxGere receives solid support from a great supporting cast:  Alfred Molina as his reluctant accomplice, Marcia Gay Harden as Irving’s wife Edith who is dragged into the scheme, and Hope Davis as his all-too-trusting publisher. 

As much as anything else, The Hoax is a moral fable about greed, celebrity, and most of all, lies.  Almost childlike in his glee at the beginning of his scheme, Irving cannot believe he has fooled the smart, powerful people who turned down his last book.  He’s like a kid stealing from the cookie jar.  Irving continues on a high, thinking he’s invincible, when suddenly fear and anxiety take over.  What if he is caught?  What if Hughes uses his considerable influence to crush him?   Like a game, it all eventually ceases to be fun.  Irving has dug himself into a hole so deep, there’s no way out.  When he finally is found out, he almost seems relieved.  He doesn’t have to pretend any more. 

In our post-Watergate era (the film even makes references to the famous break-in and cover up), we are much more skeptical and cynical than we were 35 years ago.  Trust in everything from church and state to business and media have been chipped away.  Plagiarism is a serious issue in academia and journalism.  The Hoax chronicles the mad adrenaline rush that comes when we think we’ve gotten away with something, and follows it through to the moment in which we regret ever telling that first lie.  When Irving’s hoax is finally revealed, there is an enormous outcry from all sectors.  No one can believe it.  Today, after the falsehoods of Enron, the weapons of mass destruction, and the cover-up of the death of Pat Tillman, we’d scarcely bat an eye.  For whatever reason, lying is much more acceptable in the public arena than in the 70’s. 

For those of us committed to preaching the truth, The Hoax is a worthwhile reminder of how easy it is to compromise truth, especially when fame and fortune are involved.  Once we begin to go down the slippery slope, it’s nearly impossible to return to a place of moral integrity again. 

Tom Condon, OP   





The Hoax is a worthwhile reminder of how easy it is to compromise truth, especially when fame and fortune are involved. 

The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

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