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Paranoia prison

Movies | The Hoax reveals the quality of life of a notorious liar

Issue: "Don't fence me out," April 21, 2007

He who digs a pit falls into it: The Hoax is a film about disgraced author Clifford Irving, whose fabricated autobiography of eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes cost him his reputation and 14 months in prison on fraud charges.

Ironically, the credits list Irving as a technical consultant, but Irving has said that the Lasse Hallstrom-directed picture distorts the facts. It seems fitting to question the veracity of a film based on Irving's autobiography describing how he attempted to bilk McGraw-Hill out of close to $1 million. But however factual the film about events of the early 1970s is, The Hoax (rated R for language and brief nudity) is an interesting and suspenseful ride through the life of a man trying to make his career out of a lie so spectacular that many people believed it.

Richard Gere stars as Irving, portraying him as a man on the edge of believing his own tall tale. But it's Hallstrom's use of Hughes' specter that makes the film interesting. The huckster Irving reasons that the reclusive Hughes would never break his media silence to speak out against the autobiography-but though Hughes is never seen, Irving feels his presence.

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When Irving's paranoid partner Dick Suskind (Alfred Molina) warns the author that Hughes' goon squad might come after them, Irving writes it off. But when Gere's character steps to the podium to deliver a speech, a gigantic photographic backdrop of Hughes casts a warning glare on Irving. Later, when both Hughes and publishers ratchet up the pressure, Irving begins to dream that Hughes' men have kidnapped him.

Perhaps the film's greatest value lies in its exploration of the quality of life of liars. Considering how far he took his hoax, Irving must be considered one of the best liars of his time, yet his tales still made him a prisoner of both the state and his own paranoia. When he was released after 14 months, Irving stuck mainly to fiction.


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