Thursday, November 27, 2003
Photo: Poison Pen: Hayden Christensen as journalist Stephen Glass thinks of another whopper.
Journalistic ethics are scrupulously explored in this dramatization of real-life New Republic writer Stephen Glass'' meteoric rise and rapid collapse in the wake of falsified articles he wrote during the mid ''90s as a staff writer for the prestigious magazine.
Hayden Christensen (Attack of the Clones) is impeccable as the 26-year-old Glass, an insecure writer desperate for adulation at any cost. Peter Sarsgaard gives a sensational performance as Glass''s pragmatic and principled editor Chuck Lane. Based on a Vanity Fair article by Buzz Bissinger, and boasting the screenwriting and directorial debut of Billy Ray, Shattered Glass is a perfect example of a truly great Hollywood film where story and character advance a recognizable theme to a point of critical mass.
Journalistic ethical dilemmas are a hot topic today. Jayson Blair''s recent downfall at The New York Times picked up where Stephen Glass left off, providing a wake-up call for publishers, editors, and writers across the country to take a stand for editorial responsibility.
Sarsgaard carries the weight of that heavy editorial demand in this film as Chuck Lane, a man who reluctantly accepts the position of New Republic editor-in-chief after his predecessor, Michael Kelly, is fired. Lane is too serious, too much of a Boy Scout to be admired by his staff. But his better traits come to the fore when he gets a call from two reporters (Steve Zahn and Rosario Dawson) from the now defunct Forbes Digital Tool questioning him about missing links in Glass''s recent article "Hack Heaven." The head-to-head scenes between Sarsgaard and Christensen dueling over the "truth" provide terrific drama.
Many people have doubts about contributing to Stephen Glass''s six-figure advance for his story. While I understand this reaction, Shattered Glass gives a serious view into the severity of Glass''s journalistic deceptions without preaching to its audience. Writer/director Billy Ray gives crisp attention to the atmospheric details of the claustrophobic editorial environment at the New Republic. His dialogue is stunningly accurate and breathes with the newsroom perspiration of its characters.
Shattered Glass is book-ended with scenes of Glass speaking to a group of students at his former high school, in the homeroom of his former English teacher. Glass describes the excruciating weeklong editing process that each article is subjected to at New Republic, and we get visions of red ballpoint pens leaving scars across pages of text as it goes through so many hands that there''s hardly anything left. Later, when Lane pulls out every issue of the magazine containing a Stephen Glass story, we understand the extent of the damage this reporter did to our republic.
Shattered Glass [3 1/2 stars]
Directed by Billy Ray
Starring Hayden Christensen, Peter Sarsgaard, Steve Zahn, Rosario Dawson
(Rated PG-13,103 min.)