January 16, 2008 -- This bizarre story, loosely based on the true story of one of the great hoaxes of the 20th Century, is bright, breezy, wacky, fascinating and well-acted. It follows a well-known author, Clifford Irving (played by Richard Gere of “Shall We Dance?”) and his friend, Dick Suskind (Alfred Molina of “The DaVinci Code”) as they pull off an audacious scheme in the early 1970s to publish an authorized autobiography of Howard Hughes that is actually not authorized at all. It is a fake. Irving starts out by forging a couple of hand-written documents saying that Howard Hughes agreed to be interviewed by Irving and authorizes him to act on his behalf. The fake letters are declared authentic by handwriting experts (never rely on a handwriting expert, or military intelligence, for that matter). Irving also passes a lie detector test (that's why you can't use lie detector tests in court). Irving's publisher, McGraw-Hill, is still skeptical and demands proof. Irving gets past every hurdle the publisher puts in front of him.
Meanwhile, Irving is working on the book, digging up all the information he can about the reclusive Howard Hughes. He and Suskind manage to make an illegal copy of a valuable manuscript written by an old associate of Hughes. They make illegal copies of documents from U.S. Government archives and they steal documents from government buildings relating to Hughes' military contracts. They also get a mysterious box of files from Nevada which has all kinds of incriminating evidence of links between Hughes and President Richard Nixon. According to Irving, he received no such information. Irving says that part of the movie, and others, are as fake as his book was. The movie indicates that Howard Hughes himself may have been manipulating Irving, Suskind, McGraw-Hill and even the U.S. Government to get what he wanted. What Hughes wanted was to get government approval of a merger of two companies, and to win a lawsuit that could cost him over 100 million dollars if he had lost.
The movie is an amazing story filled with twists, turns, intrigue, betrayals, hallucinations and close calls. In the end, Irving, Suskind and Irving's wife, Edith (Marcia Gay Harden of “Mystic River”) are caught and do time for their crimes, but it was a wild, heady ride until that time. Irving says most of the movie is fiction. You can read Irving's brief comments about the movie here. You can also download a few chapters of Irving's infamous Howard Hughes book for free (or the complete book for about $6) from Clifford Irving's web site. Yep. Irving is still writing books, and he's even self-publishing some of his old ones. What an amazing, resilient, audacious character. What an amazing yarn. This film rates a B+.
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