Shattered Glass
review by Elias Savada, 14 November 2003

Slick. Real slick. Real sick. That Stephen Glass is some character.

First, let me say I have no sympathy at all for Mr. Glass, the formerly esteemed and still extremely young journalist whose well-documented downfall duped and disgraced a dozen or so editors and writers at The New Republic, the current-events-and-policy publication often referred to as the in-flight magazine of Air Force One. The story now is available in a neat, clean, and smart cautionary film tale courtesy of first-time director Billy Ray. Glass, who also wrote for Rolling Stone, Harper's, and George, was fired for fabricating dozens of articles. He outraged his fellow journalists, caught his editors with their commas down, and otherwise disappointed and ultimately disgusted his professional family. All that trust and admiration, and, apparently, too much wide-eyed innocence. Boy, what suckers. Of course, we knew that before the lights went down to start Shattered Glass, if you followed the news, broken online by Forbes Digital Tool and then broaden by Buzz Bissinger's article in the September 1998 issue of Vanity Fair. Sadly, even the shamefully brazen centerpiece of this mess can still bottom-feed off the public, as Glass has since published a thinly-veiled novel about a hotshot reporter who lies. That book is unfortunately rising in the ranks at Amazon.com's website, moving up 15,000 spots since just after the Halloween opening in New York City and Los Angeles. It should be off the charts.

Ah, but I digress. Maybe I just don't like people who constantly dress in solid-blue oxford shirts over crew-neck t-shirts, with those Harry Potter frames hugging a cherubic mug. Hayden Christensen, brother of producer Tove Christensen, succeeds in putting the best face forward capturing Glass as sick/slick puppy in wolf's clothing. He's such an entertaining guy, spinning stories at numerous staff meetings that make everyone laugh and smile; or thoughtfully, and obsessively, remembering, three years after a casual mention, how someone likes her beer served. Without delving into the underlying reasons beneath his character, the actor blazes glory in creating a compassionate Svengali, of a debonair word swindler perpetrating fictional myth (twenty-seven stories passed muster with the New Republic's fact checkers) before unraveling with further lies, deceptions, and a bowl of tears. Christensen, horribly directed in Star Wars: Episode II, a turgid sequel to a dull prequel, thankfully builds off the sympathetic character he played to wide acclaim in Irwin Winkler's drama Life as a House.

For all the suave anti-hero that Christensen exudes, we still can root for the real heroes who uncovered the fraud: Adam Penenberg (Steve Zahn), flummoxed by the audacity that a Glass piece on hackers is completely unverifiable through any of the Internet search engines; and editor Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard), who had replaced the beloved and charming Mike Kelly (Hank Azaria). Zahn, best known for his distinctly comic, clueless roles--including a Klingon-speaking friend of Eddie Murphy's in Daddy Day Care--offers a more serious character, yet imbued with a comic twinkle, of the reporter who can only confirm one fact in the story, that Nevada is indeed a state of the union. Sarsgaard, best known for his role opposite Hilary Swank in Boys Don't Cry (which also featured ChloŽ Sevigny, who has a role here as an appreciative colleague), hits his marks just right. He's the boss, torn between dispiriting hope, a mutinous staff, and journalistic disaster, who eventually earns the respect he deserves 

The co-author of bigger-than-life efforts Hart's War and Volcano, Billy Ray has turned off the high beams and focused on objects that are closer than they appear. He has crafted an entertaining film, filled it with understated performances, and delivers a small pearl. It's generally a straightforward piece, yet he imaginatively sets up the fable with faux footage of the fabricated hacker Ian Restil, his "agent," and an entire software company. A parallel line has the Glass character regaling students at his former high school with his day-in-the-life-of experiences, earning the adoring, yet ultimately empty, attention of his too-susceptible teen crowd.

This journalistic debacle, which is by no means a unique situation (reference: Jayson Blair), gets a wonderful treatment in the hands of a freshman director. As casually mentioned by a New Republic receptionist late in the film, and which many astute viewers early in the film would have wondered about under their breath, this all might have been avoided if the faked articles had been supplemented with photographic proof. No photos equals no truth. Thankfully, we have the cinematic truth of Shattered Glass to remind us that there are endearingly likable dirty rotten scoundrels loose amongst us.

Written and
Directed by:

Billy Ray

Starring:
Hayden Christensen
Peter Sarsgaard
Hank Azaria
ChloŽ SevignyMelanie Lynskey
Steve Zahn
Rosario Dawson
Cas Anvar

Rated:
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult
guardian.

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