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Miramax Pictures presents
"I am working on the most important book of the twentieth century."
DVD ReviewIf you're going to start lying, don't pussyfoot around with simply nudging the truth—go for some outsized whoppers, and the sheer audacity of that may actually get you places. That was sort of Clifford Irving's code of conduct, for a while, anyway, and this frisky, smart movie is fine account of how he nearly pulled the big one over on almost everybody. Maybe you can't fool all of the people all of the time, but if you can lie with Irving's silver tongue, it looks like you can come damn close.
Richard Gere plays Irving, here portrayed as a midcareer writer with middling success, wholly unsatisfied with the favorable notices and modest sales of his books to date, because they don't square with his self-image as his generation's Hemingway. There's an almost manic quality to Irving as presented here—he runs through money like water, and it's both kind of shocking and kind of touching to see his childlike glee in his sweet new Mercedes convertible, which he shows off to his wife with peals of laughter as the repo guys take the couch out of their living room. McGraw-Hill has put the kibosh on publishing his latest novel, so how is he going to make a big splash?
By pulling one over, that's how. The first act of the film is peppered with references to reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes, so we see how the idea gets launched—Irving is a canny enough forger that he produces a couple of letters in Hughes' hand, and convinces his publisher that he, Irving, has been designated to write Hughes' autobiography, and of course Irving is to be the exclusive emissary to this fantastically mysterious figure, whose shunning of the spotlight for decades makes him the most alluring subject possible. Irving has a partner in crime in Dick Suskind, his best pal and researcher, played with hangdog enthusiasm and great humor by the wonderful Alfred Molina—you can see him getting ensnared in Irving's web of charm despite his better instincts, but he cannot avoid going along for the ride. Gere too is pretty great in the lead role, a selling-ice-to-the-Eskimos sort who's both incredibly glib and on some level sweetly gullible, so he becomes his own best mark for his pitches.
Hughes is a figure of great fascination, though as the years go on after his death, his iconic power has waned—he's a seemingly inexhaustible subject for Hollywood, though, in projects as varied as The Aviator and Melvin and Howard. The filmmakers have wisely decided not to have an actor portray Hughes, who remains more potent as an offscreen presence, or in news clips and transcripts—they work off of the same authenticity that made Joe McCarthy such a formidable antagonist in Good Night, and Good Luck. And it's also a movie that clearly loves its period, its historical moment—director Lasse Hallström and his production team provide a riotous look to the early 1970s, and they savor every three-martini lunch, shag carpet, huge lapel and epic sideburn.
The willingness to suspend disbelief by everyone around Irving is what you've got to sell us on, and the film does that really well—part of that is because, unlike a movie like Shattered Glass, we're in on the secret from the jump, and get to experience vicarious glee with Irving as his increasingly improbable scheme gathers steam before its inevitable collapse. Hallström attracts fine actors to smaller roles, too, including Marcia Gay Harden as Clifford's wife, conflicted about her husband but who knows how many zeroes there are on that check; Julie Delpy, as Irving's mistress, a role that can feel sometimes like little more than a creaky plot device; and Zeljko Ivanek, head shaved as Ralph Graves, the editor of Life Magazine and self-appointed arbiter of all things Americana. The film is also kind of a great companion piece to F for Fake, Orson Welles' whimsical, devious documentary look at these same historical circumstances.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Nicely transferred, if with an occasional distracting bit of shakiness; but the visual production elements, so crucial to situating us in time and place, are generally well rendered.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: It's a dense sound mix, so you'll be missing out on some of the atmospherics if your home-theater setup isn't tricked out. But the dialogue will be sufficiently clear on the 5.1 track, along with the many covers of Beatles songs.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring National Treasure: Book of Secrets, No Country for Old Men, Becoming Jane
6 Deleted Scenes
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director Lasse Hallström and screenwriter William Wheeler (track one); producers Leslie Halloran and Joshua D. Maurer (track two)
Six deleted scenes also have optional commentary from Hallström and Wheeler—most are setup bits trimmed for purposes of keeping down the running time, or offer extraneous if interesting Hughes arcana. Also on hand is an extended version of a scene in the movie, featuring the actors riffing at a tony business lunch—you can almost sense Gere and Molina trying to top one another, and everybody trying to keep from corpsing. Stranger Than Fiction (9m:03s) is a conventional making-of featurette; 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace is front and center for Reflections on a Con (4m:32s), discussing his interview with Clifford Irving.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsA loving and spirited look at a grand rapscallion who perpetrated one of the great literary frauds. It's a movie that's respectful of its audience, and has fun with the trappings of its period; the commentary tracks are especially good, too.
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