Too bad it was all a lie.
I was honestly surprised at how entertained I was by this movie. From the plot alone, THE HOAX seems like a fairly unremarkable, straightforward story (man lies, gets caught, fin). But director Lasse Hallström and writer William Wheeler manage to create an entertaining and absorbing film out of Irving’s account, one that’s even exciting and suspenseful at times. The story bleeds in to areas outside the cutthroat world of book publishing, touching on cultural relevancy, international conspiracies, and political intrigue. (You’ll be surprised at the connection to Nixon and Watergate).
Mainly though, THE HOAX works as an unexpectedly funny and broad satire. The credit for that goes to Richard Gere in a charming and charismatic mode that we haven’t seen him inhabit in a long time. His performance alone creates a lighter tone for the film and makes Irving likable, which is remarkable considering he’s ultimately something of a lying scumbag. A number of great actors like Alfred Molina, Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis and Julie Delpy provide support, but it’s definitely Gere’s show.
Due to his ingenuity and more than a few cases of pure luck, everything seems to work in Irving’s favor for the majority of the movie. Unfortunately, it’s a hard trick to keep up, as the audience knows the man’s secret and eventual fate from the get go—so maintaining the freshness is a challenge. THE HOAX falters in that respect towards the end, in a few scenes where Irving visibly begins to lose it. It goes along with the film’s theme of obsession, but felt out of place and tacked on. There’s also the interesting quandary that since Irving is so good at lying, and this is based on his own memoirs, you don’t know how much of THE HOAX is actually true. I suppose that’s a fitting dilemma though.
Commentary by director Lasse Hallström and writer William Wheeler: A thoroughly average commentary, but it’s nice to see a writer get some recognition and face time for his work. Hallström’s obviously a talented guy, but I can’t help hating him for being married to hottie Lena Olin. It’s not fair.
Commentary by producers Leslie Holleran and Joshua Maurer: The duo have no problem carrying on throughout the movie, but I just don’t think their experiences exactly necessitate their own commentary. They provide some history of the project and historical background, but also a lot of “Ooh, I love this” and “That’s so great, isn’t it?”
Stranger Than Fiction (9:04): Not a Will Ferrell comedic interpretation; just your basic Making Of, with cast, crew and assorted experts speculating as to why Irving would do something like this.
Deleted Scenes (13:15): Some of these would’ve fleshed out the story a bit more, but none were completely necessary. Except more Julie Delpy. Always more Julie Delpy.
“Business As Pleasure” Extended Scene (6:28): Alfred Molina is great in this scene and his skittish, awkward character works, but mostly in smaller doses.
Mike Wallace: Reflections of a Con (4:33): 60 Minutes journalist Mike Wallace interviewed Irving at the height of the scandal and here briefly shares some of his experiences and impressions from dealing with the man.
Extra Tidbit: Even though THE HOAX is based on his memoir of the same name and he’s credited as “Technical Consultant,” Irving had nothing to do with the movie.