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SHATTERED GLASS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Hayden Christensen, Peter Sarsgaard, Chloe Sevigny, Rosario Dawson, Melanie Lynskey, Hank Azaria, Steve Zahn
Director: Billy Ray
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Lions Gate
Features: See Review
Length: 94 Minutes
Release Date: March 23, 2004

“You have to know who you’re writing for, and you have to know what you’re good at. I record what people do. I find out what moves them, what scares them, and I write that down. That way they’re the ones telling the story. And you know what? Those kind of pieces can win Pulitzers too.”

Film ****

In 1998, the journalism world was suddenly rocked by a most unprecedented scandal involving the utter publication of fiction in newspapers. The culprit behind the fraud was Stephen Glass, a 25 year old writer for the news publication The New Republic, also known as the official in-flight magazine of Air Force One. Glass was a charismatic individual who managed to convince his editor and writing staff about the seemingly unbeatable stories he came up with. He seemed like anything but the harmful type, but his secret agenda caught up with him and inevitably exposed him and what he was doing right in the eye of the journalism profession.

Five years later, the story of Stephen Glass' rise and fall in the journalism profession has been brought to the screen in the gripping and absorbing Shattered Glass. It paints an unforgettable portrait of a young kid who made a bad choice and could never really come to terms with the harm he had done until it was too late. With its realistic depiction of the journalism process, the film deserves to be ranked with two other masterful films about journalism; All the President's Men and The Insider.

The film chronicles the last several months of what would be Glass' journalistic career. The events depicted take place in early 1998, the same time when Clinton's illicit affair scandal was starting to unravel and corporate America was starting to believe in the New Market belief, which basically considered morals and ethics as a thing of the past. It goes without saying that this gave Glass a certain bit of motive for doing what he did, even though his reason for manufacturing stories is never actually revealed, and it doesn't have to be. Lying is a sin that doesn't always win a confession from the culprit.

The film presents Stephen Glass as a more than likeable figure during his high-riding stage as the lead writer for The New Republic. When the story reveals the true side of Glass, it raises the possibility that he may have been psychologically fractured, as a result of pervasive lying. He is also emotionally fractured when the truth is revealed. He pleads to editor repeatedly that he hasn't done anything wrong even as he is being figured out by his superiors for the first time.

The centerpiece of the film's story involves two crucial points. The first one involves the firing of Glass' editor and mentor, Michael Kelly (Hank Azaria), and the hiring of Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard) as the replacement. Kelly's firing came as result of a dispute the editor had with the head of the paper of the issue of having to correct grammar in the writer's stories. Kelly was not just the editor of the writing staff, but a close friend to all of them. Glass and the rest of the staffers are outraged by the firing, and are not satisfied with the hiring of Lane, who is seen by them as a bit more stern in addition to lacking the friendly charisma which Kelly possessed. In the film's postscript, it is revealed that the real Michael Kelly was the first journalist to be killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The second crucial event in what basically triggers Glass' sudden downfall. The writer's most noted piece involved the account of a convention of computer hackers. The heart of this article involved a young hacker who was apparently raiding a series of computer systems of big corporations, only to sell them his expertise in order to prevent additional hackers. The story attracted the attention of the web-based Forbes Digital Tool so much that they wanted to do a follow up piece on the young hacker. But as Forbes staff writer Adam Pendenberg (played in the film by Steve Zahn) attempts to begin his follow up, he can't find him, his alleged agent, his web site, or even the company that hired him.

As the rival writers at Forbes become more and more suspicious about Glass' story, Lane is starting to become twice as suspicious of his star writer, even though Glass remains quite convincing when defending his numerous sources. Despite the heat unleashed upon him, Glass is able to convince everyone about his story through telephone numbers, voicemail answering machines, and a website. It isn't too long until the truth is once revealed in a stunning confrontational moment between Glass and Lane.

Hayden Christensen, known to many as young Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, delivers a perfectly toned performance, one that illustrates that he is a true acting talent. There isn't a single second where he is not believable in the role, as Christensen portrays Glass as an energetic and naïve child-like personality, complete with the mannerisms of a purely innocent and happy kid. And once his fraud has been revealed, Glass is even portrayed as something of a sympathetic individual even though what he has done, deceiving the journalism profession, is completely wrong.

Another star making performance comes by way of Peter Sarsgaard, a rising supporting player whom you may recognize from his memorable bits in The Salton Sea and Empire. This is the actor's strongest work to date, playing the part of a totally conflicted person. Chuck Lane is firm on honesty on the part of the journalist, but if he takes action, the risk of no longer having a writing staff is at stake, since each of them are friends of Glass'.

Shattered Glass is one of this past year's truly best films. It's a clear and honest portrait of a man who possessed the nature and all around talent of a true journalist, and chose to apply them in the worst way anyone in such a profession could. It's a striking memorable piece of non-fiction reflected through film about a kid who conned an establishment through being constantly being consumed by his own lies.

Video ***

Lions Gate has delivered, for the most part, quite a solid anamorphic presentation. The video quality is enlivened with a good deal of image detail and wonderful coloring throughout. Its only flaw is a few shots late in the film, which appear a bit flickery on the detail. It prevents this from being a potentially grand looking transfer, but it's far from a bad one.

Audio ***

A terrific 5.1 track, considering this movie is basically a dialogue driven film. The sound mix provides all around good balance between words and additional sounds. The occasional music is delivered nicely, and the dialogue is delivered with perfect precision.

Features **1/2

The disc includes a commentary track with writer/director Billy Ray and the real Chuck Lane, as well as an intriguing "60 Minutes" piece on the real Stephen Glass, which reveals where he is at in his current life. There is also a trailer for this and a bonus trailer for Girl With a Pearl Earring.

Summary:

As fact based reflected in cinema, Shattered Glass is one of the best true story-inspired films to come around in recent memory, as well as one of the best films about the journalism profession. Credit writer and director Billy Ray and stars Hayden Christensen and Peter Sarsgaard for adding in elements to create a much memorable and masterful film.