Lionsgate // 2003 // 94 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // April 21st, 2004
Read between the lies.
In 1998, Stephen Glass (Hayden Christensen, Life as a House, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones) was a darling of the American print media. 25 years old, Glass had contributed articles to Harper's, George, and Rolling Stone, and he was the youngest member of the writing and editing staff at The New Republic, where his vivid prose added vigor to a magazine with a reputation for being staid and stodgy. Glass's energetic story pitches became the highlight of staff meetings. Unfortunately, the young journalist would prove to be more P.T. Barnum than Edward R. Murrow.
Everything changed on May 6, 1998, when Glass's piece, "Hack Heaven," hit news stands. The article told the story of a 15-year-old computer geek who hacked into the network of a major software company called Jukt Micronics and posted pornographic pictures and the message "Big Bad Bionic Boy Has Been Here Baby" on their website. Jukt executives, it seems, met with the boy at a hacker's convention in Las Vegas -- a meeting Glass claimed to have attended -- and rather than threatening legal action, offered him a lucrative contract to work for them.
Surprised he'd been scooped on his technology beat by a straight news magazine, Adam Penenberg (Steve Zahn, That Thing You Do!, Saving Silverman) of the Forbes Digital webzine began plugging "facts" from Glass's article into a variety of search engines and was unable to confirm the existence of Jukt Micronics; The National Assembly of Hackers or their convention in Vegas; a government agency called The Center for Interstate Online Investigations; or the boy, Ian Restil, and his agent, Joe Hiert. Penenberg contacted Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard, The Center of the World, The Salton Sea), senior editor at The New Republic, to verify the accuracy of the story. That's when Glass's glory days as journalism's favorite wunderkind came to an abrupt end.
To their horror, Lane and his staff uncovered a history of Glass fabrications that dated back to Michael Kelly's (Hank Azaria, The Simpsons, The Bird Cage) tenure as the magazine's senior editor.
Shattered Glass is a compelling film because of a clever structure that tells two parallel yet entwined stories. While Stephen Glass's elaborate attempts to hide his own perfidies are center stage, Chuck Lane's ascent as senior editor of the The New Republic is equally engaging. As the movie begins, Michael Kelly is at the helm of the magazine, nearly worshipped by his writers for his devotion to them and his willingness to defend them against the iron fist of the magazine's owner, Marty Peretz. Kelly's advocacy on behalf of his staff eventually gets him fired (he would go on to edit Atlantic Monthly until he was killed in 2003 covering the war in Iraq), and Lane was given his job, much to the chagrin of his peers. Lane's dogged pursuit of the truth regarding Glass alienates him even further from his staff, who view the young man as an enormously talented but vulnerable kid brother type. But as evidence of Glass's systematic lying mounts, Lane's rigid journalistic integrity gives him the sort of tangible moral authority that can't simply be handed over by a publication's owner along with the keys to the big office. Shattered Glass makes intelligent use of the inextricable and converse relationship between the reputations of Glass and Lane. The result is a dynamic character drama.
This two-character structure is bolstered by whiz-bang performances by both Hayden Christensen and Peter Sarsgaard. Christensen is perfect as the consummate conman, manipulating his peers and superiors (not to mention us) by telling them what they want to hear, and exuding the innocent savant's lack of confidence in or awareness of his own powers. His childish refrain, "Are you mad at me?" is so disarming one almost wants him to succeed in his lies...almost. The film's artistic success relies in large part on making the audience understand how seasoned professional journalists could have been so thoroughly deceived by a 25-year-old newbie. Billy Ray's (Hart's War) excellent screenplay sets a solid foundation, but it's ultimately up to Christensen to seduce us just as Glass seduced the folks at The New Republic. He delivers.
I've never seen Peter Sarsgaard turn in anything other than a wonderful performance, even in less-than-wonderful movies. His work in Shattered Glass is subtle and keenly-observed. It's the sort of acting that's so natural one gets lost in it, losing sight of the actor as an actor and buying the character wholesale. Chuck Lane is a character under pressure from all sides. His loyalty to Michael Kelly is tested, his integrity is questioned, his staff dislikes him, his young star is under attack from a rival publication, and the reputation of The New Republic itself is on the line. It would be easy for an actor to mishandle any of these threads, to overplay key moments by slipping into self-indulgence. Sarsgaard never does; not even for the briefest moment. His performance -- and this isn't exaggeration -- is perfect.
As if Christensen and Sarsgaard weren't enough, the movie also boasts fine supporting performances by Chloë Sevigny (Julien Donkey-Boy) and the always excellent Melanie Lynskey (Heavenly Creatures, Sweet Home Alabama) as Caitlin Avery and Amy Brand, New Republic staffers manipulated by Glass into acting as his mother hens; Steve Zahn and Rosario Dawson (Sidewalks of New York, 25th Hour) as the Forbes reporters who expose Glass; and an avuncular Hank Azaria as Michael Kelly. There just isn't a weak spot in this cast.
Shattered Glass comes to DVD in a transfer that is mostly strong, despite some haloing throughout, and a spot or two of egregious dirt and debris on the source print near the end of the film. And the 5.1 Dolby Surround track is more than adequate for the movie's relatively low-key audio.
Extras include an excellent commentary by writer-director Billy Ray and former New Republic senior editor Chuck Lane, and a 13-minute 60 Minutes interview with Stephen Glass. Both supplements underscore the film's fidelity to the actual events as well as the quality of Christensen's and Sarsgaard's performances.
I know the cheesy "true story that shocked a nation" tagline at the bottom of the DVD's keep case doesn't exactly inspire confidence, but trust me. Shattered Glass is a winner. I have no qualms recommending it.
Review content copyright © 2004 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Audio Commentary by Director Billy Ray and Journalist Chuck Lane
* 60 Minutes Interview with Stephen Glass
* Official Site