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Shattered Glass

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Shattered Glass

Starring: Hayden Christensen, Peter Sarsgaard
Director: Billy Ray
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 103 Minutes
Release Date: November 2003
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Chloe Sevigny, Melanie Lynskey, Steve Zahn, Hank Azaria, Rosario Dawson, Luke Kirby, Jamie Elman, Ted Kotcheff, Cas Anvar

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Review by Harvey Karten
3½ stars out of 4

People take away from meaty movies what means something special to them. "Shattered Glass" reminds me of a thought I had some time ago when I was teaching full time and took on a night-school job as well. Like others in my profession, I would be making more money with two jobs than I would with just one, obviously. But like others with the extra job, I was tired all the time. As a result, my performance suffered in the daytime and suffered at night as well. I got to thinking: how ironic that the more money that people make by taking on extra jobs, the less effective they are!

As for how this connects to "Shattered Glass," Billy Ray's gripping account of a journalist for a respected publication who, like Jayson Blair of the New York Times, faked several of his stories--27 out of 41, in fact (or should we say in fiction)...Stephen Glass, who is indeed shattered by what he had done, was just twenty-four years of age in 1998 when the exposure was made. Like people who work more than one job, he not only worked his full-time grind at The New Republic, which for my money is the country's most respectable magazine about politics: He took on freelance gigs with such high-paying mags as Rolling Stone and George. But that's not all. He had the distorted ambition to go to Georgetown Law School at night, which only a kid in his twenties could do at all given the heavy study required and of course the presence in class. How can he possibly go out on assignments in and around Washington, D.C. such as a hotel convention of young computer hackers, take the notes and interview the people, then submit an in-depth article to his editor at The New Republic? He can't and did not. He faked most of the stories and, since he was well-liked at the magazine--he could entertain the staff at meetings as though telling stories of the 1001 Nights and had a youthful charisma--he was given considerable support by his colleagues such as young reporters Caitlin Avey (Chloe Sevigny) and Amy Brand (Melanie Lynskey). He was mentored by the late, great Michael Kelly (Hank Azaria), who was later fired by publisher Marty Peretz (Ted Kotcheff) for personality clashes and for siding with the workers repeatedly against the administration of the periodical.

With a dynamic, credible script from writer-director Billy Ray, whose film work so far is remarkably thin for a guy who could punch out and lead actors in such a dramatic work, "Shattered Glass" carries with it as much tension as a good mystery, even though we know in advance that the faker will get caught. We wish beyond hope that the guy will get away with what he's doing because we in the audience are carried away as much as everyone who worked with him at the magazine.

"Shattered Glass" is a must-see for everyone. This should be required viewing in schools of journalism from Columbia to Stanford because it's not only a wake-up call against unethical writing but because we learn so much about the profession within the story's 94 minutes. We find out--without thinking in any way that we're sitting in a classroom--that at a highly regarded journal like The New Republic, a story does not simply get written by a reporter and slipped into the magazine as though it were a hot item that might be picked up by a tabloid's extra edition. In fact one wonders how a story can go through so many employees that it remains timely. It goes to the fact-checkers, then to editors who add a comma here and delete an apostrophe there. It goes to lawyers who make sure nothing in the article could evoke a lawsuit. Then it goes back to a few editors and a few fact-checkers and to the reporter. Oh, and to the lawyers again.

In the story Stephen Glass (Hayden Christensen), on top of the world at 24, is sought out for stories about hackers and for commentary about political conventions. He's big enough to tell his assistants to send phone calls from George and Rolling Stone to his voice mail. When he discusses his work, say, the hackers' convention, he gets up on the chair and gyrates to emulate the behavior of the acne-covered kid who has been made a hero by Geeks Anonymous. Glass is an entertainer; he appears invulnerable. To Hayden Christensen's credit, he conveys both the glow about his head at the beginning of the year 1998, and the tearful, suicidal lad he becomes by the end of the year when reporter Adam Penenberg (Steve Zahn) of a now-defunct online journal, Forbes Digital, checks into the story and discovers that the hotel in which the hackers' convention met on Sunday...was closed on Sunday; and that the restaurant to which the journalists repaired for dinner on Sunday...was closed at 3 p.m. as well.

We're not entirely sure about the motivation of this young man. Did he get a high every time he put one over on his editor, Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard) and on the reading public? Was this a crime of opportunity by a fellow who, after getting away with some small stuff, tested the waters to see just how far he could go? Or is the answer in some more banal fact, such as the fact that he was overwhelmed with work from law school and freelance articles?

Incredibly good performances abound, especially from Hank Azaria as Michael Kelly, a journalist who, after being fired form The New Republic went on to edit Atlantic Monthly and was tragically killed in Iraq this year; from Peter Sarsgaard as Chuck Lane, who had a difficult time taking Michael Kelly's place as editor given his lack of personality and the belief that he had no loyalty to the current staff; and of course to Hayden Christensen, in virtually every scene, who like a tragic Sophoclean hero or like Ozymandias has his 15 minutes of fame only to fall into tearful disfavor.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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