December 1, 2003 -- “Shattered Glass” is based on the true story of Stephen Glass, a young writer for The New Republic magazine who fooled his editors and co-workers for years by fabricating all or parts of articles that were supposed to be non-fiction. The film works both as a narrative about the events leading up to the discovery of Glass' deception, and as a character study of Glass himself. This is one of the best films of 2003.
Hayden Christensen of “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones” stars as Stephen Glass. I know what you are thinking, Christensen was less than impressive in Star Wars as Anakin Skywalker. He is terrific in “Shattered Glass.” In the late 1990s, A highly influential magazine, The New Republic had a staff of very young writers (average age, 26). Glass was the youngest of the lot. Every article written by the staff was thoroughly examined for accuracy and subjected to multiple layers of editing. Yet there was a flaw in the editing process. Fact-checkers relied too much on the notes of the reporters to verify the accuracy of the articles. Glass fabricated his notes and nobody was the wiser.
Part of the reason Glass got away with this outrageous behavior for so long was that he was very bright, talented and charming. He worked hard to curry favor with his co-workers and bosses. An early scene in the movie shows Glass throwing a party for his co-workers and various movers and shakers in the magazine industry. He was obsequious to his supervisors and constantly flattered his female co-workers in order to gain favor with them. All of this behavior was part of an elaborate scheme to manipulate everyone around him and to advance his career quickly.
The bulk of the movie is about the slow collapse of Glass' house of cards after journalists at another publication looked into one of Glass' stories and found out it was false. Glass continued to deny any wrongdoing, even after he was caught red-handed. Glass continued to dodge evidence of wrong-doing for some time by carefully covering his tracks and manufacturing evidence to support his claims. He even got others to help him in his cover-up. He was remarkably quick and adept at making excuses to explain why editors were unable to confirm details in his articles. He had a whole briefcase full of strategies, excuses and dodges. He created fake web pages, he had others pose as sources to confirm fake details. The schemes were elaborate, but the journalists digging into his fake stories were even more determined to find the truth.
The story that brought down Glass was called “Hack Heaven.” It was about a computer hacker who was hired as a security consultant for a company whose computers he had hacked. The hacker was able to command a very high salary and lots of perquisites. The editor of Forbes Digital Tool was furious that his reporters had been scooped on the story and he chewed them out. Shamed, star Forbes reporter Adam Penenberg (Steve Zahn of “Riding in Cars With Boys”) started checking into the story became suspicious of its authenticity. After doing a lot of research, Penenberg and other Forbes reporters discovered the story was a complete fabrication. Penenberg's resulting story is considered a landmark in Internet-based journalism. Glass' attempted to deflect criticism by saying he was duped by his sources. The strategy might have worked, if he had any sources. Even Penenberg was unaware of the extent of Glass' fabrications at the time his article exposing Glass came out. It turned out he had fabricated all or parts of 27 of the 41 articles he had written for The New Republic. Incredibly, he continued to evade responsibility for what he had done right up until the end. There are certain similarities in the story of Glass and the story of Bill Clinton, who was trying to cover up his affair with Monica Lewinski at the same time Glass was in trouble. Both men never stopped their efforts to cover up their wrongdoings. What Glass did, of course, was far more serious.
Hayden Christensen does a fantastic job in the title role of Stephen Glass. His desperation and his disingenuous relationships with his friends and co-workers are portrayed with chilling precision. Part of the reason the film is so effective is that we never see Glass actually doing anything involved in the cover-up, except lying. In some cases, it appears Glass himself is unaware of what is real and what is not. We have to discover the truth about Glass through evidence, just as the journalists investigating Glass must do. This clever plot device puts us even deeper inside the craft of journalism. Steve Zahn does his usual great job as a character actor in this film. Other good performances include Chloë Sevigny of “Dogville” as The New Republic writer Caitlin Avey, Melanie Lynskey of “Abandon” as writer Amy Brand, and Rosario Dawson (“The Rundown”) as writer Andie Fox. There is one interesting scene between Avey and Brand in which Brand tries to write an article in Glass' humorous, engaging style, hoping to emulate his success. “But Amy, you don't write funny,” Avey tells the crestfallen writer.
Peter Sarsgaard of “K-19: The Widowmaker” is very effective in his portrayal of Chuck Lane, the magazine editor who finally fired Glass. Lane was disliked by the staff of The New Republic, and the movie indicates that may have made it easier for him to fire Glass. Lane replaced beloved editor Michael Kelly (played by Hank Azaria of “Mystery Alaska”) a few months before Glass was fired. Kelly had staunchly defended his reporters against criticism from the magazine's publisher and was lionized by the staff for that reason. Kelly was fired, in part, because of his anti-Clinton editorials. Kelly, now deceased (he was killed on April 3, 2003, while working as a reporter covering the Iraq war), also won the respect of the writer-director of this film, Billy Ray, who called him “the most principled man it's ever been my good fortune to meet.” Both Kelly and Lane were of great help to Ray in his research for the film, Ray said. Kelly was ashamed he had never found out about Glass' deceptions while he was editor, according to the film's production notes. Nevertheless, Kelly cooperated with Ray to help ensure the story was told correctly, Ray said. I think Kelly would be pleased that the story was told truthfully in this film. It is not sugar-coated. There is no happy ending. It is a sad commentary on the damage that one man can do to the credibility of an institution. This film rates an A.
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