Dir. Lasse Hallström. 2007. R. 115mins. Richard Gere, Alfred Molina, Marcia Gay Harden, Julie Delpy, Hope Davis.
Too long in the tooth now for the bland leading-man roles that have been the meat of his career, Gere turns in some interesting character work as ’70s literary hoaxer Clifford Irving, who fabricated an autobiography of billionaire Howard Hughes and sold it for a cool million before suffering ignominious exposure and jail time.
A feckless and unsuccessful novelist, Irving was gambling that the famously reclusive Hughes would sooner tolerate the fraud than break 15 years of public silence. Enlisting his wife (Harden) and writer friend (Molina) as coconspirators, Irving patched together a plausible narrative from various archival sources, then used forged handwriting samples to convince McGraw-Hill that the manuscript was distilled from countless hours of face time with the legendary magnate.
Working with a script loosely based on Irving’s own account of the caper, director Hallström (The Cider House Rules) nails the ’70s-period vibe and delivers strong first and second acts. Things get a bit silly in the final reel, however, which proposes that Hughes was anonymously feeding sensitive material to Irving to embarrass President Nixon—an apocryphal tweak that disrupts suspension of disbelief more than it furthers the fun. (Irving himself has derided the film as “basically fiction” and “a hoax about a hoax,” but who the hell is he to be critical?) (Opens Fri; see timeoutchicago.com/nowplaying for showtimes.)— Cliff Doerksen