Entertaining if forgettable picture about Clifford Irving (Richard Gere, in a fine if obviously Oscar-hungry performance) who in 1971 convinced the top brass at publishing house McGraw-Hill that he had been called upon by reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes to work with him on his official autobiography – even though Hughes had no idea who he was.
Using an elaborate system of ruses, and counting on the hermit Hughes to not go public with the actual truth, Irving managed to lie his way to the top, swindling his publishers out of $1.3 million before his inevitable downfall.
As The Hoax is about little more than Irving's incredible lying streak, I wished it could have said something more about why pathological liars exist, or even why Irving did what he did. The answer may simply be that Irving was a shallow, desperate man who enjoyed manipulating people and got off on the rush of telling bigger and bigger whoppers. In fact, the weirdest thing about the film is that it's based on Irving's own nonfiction book about his unbelievable scam; now that's a complicated ego-stroke.
Ironically, what intrigued me most in the film was not Irving's story but the epic nature of Howard Hughes, and the power he held over the American imagination during the final years of his life. The Hoax is actually a more compelling portrait of Hughes – who does not appear in the film as a character, though a few audio and film clips of the real-life Hughes are used – than Martin Scorsese's Hughes biopic The Aviator, for it really gives us a sense of how gigantic a figure he was in the 20th century.
Lasse Hallström directs with aplomb, the big-name cast is all fine, and there's a nicely authentic '70s atmosphere. But it's not a must-see.