Young staff writer for the respected and venerable current affairs publication The New Republic, Stephen Glass (Hayden Christensen), is a star reporter delivering colourful as well as controversial features. By the mid 90s, he has become a hot Washington journalist with freelance assignments in Rolling Stone, Harper’s and George; a role model for the profession. But in 1998, one of his most celebrated stories of all starts to crumble and his career with it. Based on a true story.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This is a truly riveting story of personal corrosion in a professional context, lifted out of the scrum of films that harrumph about lawyers going bad, say, by the nuances of character study. Stephen Glass is not corrupt, but he is a flawed character, a bit reminiscent of Frank G. Abagnale of Catch Me If You can fame. What’s more, it all happened just a few years ago.
Glass has now written a novel based on his fall from journalistic grace, which makes the film all the more apposite, relevant and engaging. Hayden Christensen is perfect as the boyish young journalist who is so convincing no-one can believe that no-one should believe him. The complexity of his character is explored, although thankfully we are not subjected to any easy conclusions or psycho-babble to answer the big ‘why’ question.
My only complaint is that the film often fails the test of good journalism itself, being too clunky in its structure, especially in the first half when the screenplay meanders around the subject. The editing leaves holes which we have to try and patch up (as in the weakly established character [superbly] played by Steve Zahn, who begins the unravelling of Glass).
But once it grips and gets going with the central story, it works well, with Australian Mandy Walker shooting some great pictures, lit with the sort of ease that belies its inventive and technical excellence. And yes, it is an important story, going to the heart of not only American journalism but journalism, showing that the profession has principles – and that it is prepared to stand up for them. It makes an old journo proud . . .
Review by Louise Keller:
Printing fiction as fact is indefensible. That is a fact. But the retelling of this fascinating true story is nothing short of sensational. As is often the case, when fact is stranger than fiction, we can do nothing but gape in amazement as this extraordinary story about a talented journalist who abuses his position unfolds.
Think of the rise, rise and fall of Frank W. Abagnale, in Catch Me If You Can… The idealism that journalism promotes, offering the opportunity to set facts straight, and to colour our view of events in a balanced way, is turned upside down in Shattered Glass, and it’s a fascinating trip.
Writer/director Billy Ray (Hart’s War) has structured the film in such an interesting way, using the juxtaposition of Stephen Glass talking about his success to aspiring, impressionable students, with the real events and the ugly truth. Fantasy and truth. How far apart they are. ‘Journalism is about capturing behaviour,’ says Glass, who likes to ‘record what people do, so they are writing the story… it is in their own words’.
No arguments from this writer, but it helps if the people are real, not imagined and the facts are true. So first and foremost, this is a story about principles – or the lack of them. Mychael Danna’s score accentuates our intrigue, sounding like fingers on a keyboard searching, discovering immediacy in its phrases and notations. In pursuit of truth, we enter the world of The New Republic Magazine, in-flight magazine on Airforce One. We are there at the weekly editorial meetings when the young journalists on staff pitch their stories. Does a journalist ever stop pitching, asks editor Chuck Lane as the story reaches a critical point. Hayden Christensen is superb as a ruthless journalist, whose ethics are coloured and compromised when pressure and ambition conspires.
From charming and fawning to cocky and infallible, Christensen’s Glass disintegrates into a pathetic and emotionally distraught human being. We understand the politics and when Lane is appointed editor (replacing Hank Azaria’s Mike Kelly, highly principled professional), the shoes he has to fill are large indeed. And he begins behind the eight-ball, lacking in popularity and fighting for the control his position gives him. Peter Sarsgard brings nuance as he hits the mark with Lane, slowly but surely bringing the satisfying climax to a head. Glass makes a point of being popular, and standing out from the rest by being thoughtful, using flattery as his tool. But there are two kinds of popularity, and the whole structure of the film highlights both. To be liked is a fleeting encounter; to be respected is an everlasting treasure.
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SHATTERED GLASS (M)
CAST: Hayden Christensen, Peter Sarsgaard, Hank Azaria, Chloe Sevigny, Melanie Lynskey, Steve Zahn, Rosario Dawson, Cas Anvar
PRODUCER: Billy Ray
DIRECTOR: Craig Baumgarten, Adam Merims, Tove Christensen, Gaye Hirsch
SCRIPT: Billy Ray (based on an article by Buzz Bissinger)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Mandy Walker
EDITOR: Jeffrey Ford
MUSIC: Mychael Danna
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Francois Seguin
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hoyts
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 12, 2003
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Col TriStar Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: July 7, 2004