Richard Gere is perfectly capable of holding the center of a movie. That he hasn’t done so since American Gigolo is circumstantial; his new role as Clifford Irving, notorious peddler of a fake Howard Hughes autobiography, seems the ideal match. In his early-’70s moment of fame and shame, Irving was a charmer, a player, a wanna-be Mailer, slightly gone to seed and afraid of obsolescence. Gere, seemingly aware of his good casting, even tears into Irving’s Jewishness: “This is like a Torah sent down from God!” he exclaims of pilfered unpublished memoirs ready for the repurposing.
So consider it the ultimate bit of bad luck—or an apt irony—that Gere’s comeback is stolen by the consistently excellent Alfred Molina (still best known for his cokehead in Boogie Nights), as Irving’s partner in crime, Dick Susskind. Ingratiating himself in Irving’s scam, Susskind frequently saved the day, furiously gulping down water in meetings with McGraw-Hill and ad-libbing brilliant anecdotes. Molina plays him like a more desperate version of Gere’s Irving; suddenly this second banana becomes our moral center, jeopardizing his marriage and going too far with it all. Ultimately as unbalanced as its subject itself, The Hoax comes daringly close to a portrait of self-deception—if you look at the man behind the man. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.) — Joshua Rothkopf