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Lions Gate Entertainment

Official Site

Director: Billy Ray

Producers: Marc Butan, Craig Baumgarten

Written by: Billy Ray

Cast: Hayden Christensen, Peter Sarsgaard, Hank Azaria, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Zahn, Melanie Lynskey, Rosario Dawson

Rating: out of 5

Aside from a hooker with a heart of gold or a cop who plays by his own set of rules, there few things Americans love more than a con man who means well. This is certainly evident in the movies where con men (or perhaps I should say con artists) are frequently depicted as colorful anti-heroes, non-conformists who buck the system with style. Even real-life liars can get the hero treatment. Observe Steven Spielberg’s recent Catch Me If You Can for a romantic treatment of Frank Abagnale Jr.’s life as forger and master fake. Heck, even a traitor like Benedict Arnold can get some cinematic sympathy, even if is in the form of an awful TV movie like USA’s Benedict Arnold: A Question of Honor. So maybe writer-director Billy Ray is being a little harsh in the way he depicts former New Republic journalist/fabricator Stephen Glass as such a disgrace, I mean, he did say he was sorry.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Stephen Glass, he was a journalistic wunderkind in the late ’90s, joining the staff of The New Republic right out of college and publishing for several other well-respected publications, before an Internet journalist happened to look into one of his stories and discover it to be a total fabrication, which led to further revelations about many of his other stories. The film dramatizes this revelation and Glass’s desperate attempt to cover his tracks. Although the film is already receiving comparisons to All The President’s Man, Shattered Glass is not a thriller, it’s a character study, a portrait of liar floundering under the weight of his own lies, and how he cynically manipulates his co-workers. Glass is portrayed by Hayden Christensen, probably best known for his stiff portrayal of a bratty Darth Vader in the last Star Wars debacle, but here he seems to be channeling James Dean, whom he resembles, as he plays Glass as a sensitive young man eager to please and prone to disingenuous use of the phrase “Did I do something wrong?” as a preemptive when cracks appear.

Of course one can’t help thinking of the Jayson Blair case that made waves at The New York Times earlier this year, and it would seem the filmmakers are little self conscious about the size of that story too as the reputation of the certainly venerable New Republic gets a bit of puffing up in this film. One thing that is never adequately explained though is how such flagrant lies make it through what we’re told is a thorough inspection process. Sure Glass might be charming and a born storyteller, but the breadth of his lies is truly staggering. He doesn’t just make up people and events, he invents a software company and supposedly pending legislation, and no one caught on at the magazine?

There’s something comforting about Ray’s judgmental film. Granted, it’s unlikely anyone would have rendered Glass as journalistic Ferris Bueller, but I was relieved that the film doesn’t try mitigate his guilt by dwelling on the psychological underpinnings of his deeds. At no point in Shattered Glass do we get a scene with an overbearing dad pushing a winning-is-the-only-thing-that-matters message on an impressionable young Glass. In truth Stephen Glass had all the breaks and a dream job, and he lost it through cynicism and guile. He deserves all the scorn he’s received and more.

—Edward Rholes


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