In a pleasant bit of juxtaposition, I saw an advanced screening of The Hoax on April Fool's Day. No, really.
It's 1971, and Clifford Irving (Richard Gere) is a failed writer who rebounds from his latest publishing rejection by fabricating a correspondence with Howard Hughes, and proposing that he help write an autobiography of the reclusive billionaire. Enlisting his researcher friend (Alfred Molina), they find or swipe just enough information to make the accounts credible.
He faces various levels of healthy skepticism from McGraw-Hill, which would publish the book, and Life magazine, which would preview serial excerpts. (Curiously, the now-defunct periodical was once a major player in the book industry, perhaps the Oprah of its time.) But Irving is resolved to stick with the lie and dig himself deeper into potential trouble. To immerse himself further into the myth of Hughes, Irving mimics the man's known mannerisms to a stalker-like extent. By the end he becomes a form of Hughes, paranoid and alone.
I like seeing Gere play a role that's a little manic; I don't think I've seen him like this since Mr. Jones. Incidentally, that film also starred Lena Olin, who would have been terrific here. (Her husband, Lasse Hallström, directed The Hoax.) Instead, we have Marcia Gay Harden playing Mrs. Irving with some form of indecipherable Euro accent; she's bizarrely miscast.
It's easy to forget that this film takes place in a post-Camelot era of trust. Richard Nixon is in the White House, and Irving's manuscript suggests that Howard Hughes' dealings with the President gave Nixon good reason to be paranoid about what the Democrats in the Watergate Hotel also knew. Okay, that part may or may not have happened, depending on whether you believe me.