“Shattered Glass” follows the meteoric rise and destructive fall of real-life reporter Stephen Glass, who in the mid-1990s was a sought-after young journalist who wrote for The New Republic (and freelanced for such mighty publications as Rolling Stone, Harper’s and George), and who was discovered to have invented facts to support his work in all three magazines. It’s not an action film, but it has more drama per frame than any Ben Affleck picture – and far from the insider picture you’d expect, it supports an intense discussion of the universal (and ultra-capitalist) aggression between intent and integrity. There may not be a better independent picture this fall.
Hayden Christensen plays Glass with a fair amount of punch – although his delivery will require some variety if he is to survive in the motion picture world; here he mugs and whines as palpably as he does as Anakin Skywalker in the ill-fated Star Wars prequels. But Hank Azaria puts forth a brilliant effort in his depiction of the late Michael Kelly, who mentored Glass and felt ashamed that he didn’t catch the young reporter while he was tutoring him. Azaria may go down as the most versatile un-sung actor of his generation; from his flaming turn in “The Birdcage” to his commanding presence in this film, I don’t think he’s played a single role to less-than-perfect pitch.
But it’s ultimately Peter Sarsgaard’s film, although that’s not made clear until well into the second act of the film. Sarsgaard plays Chuck Lane, the unlikable New Republic editor who was coerced into filling the shoes of the more popular Kelly when the latter was fired unceremoniously. It’s a tremendously difficult role; the film pits him against the likable staff of the magazine, and more importantly, against the hard-working, ideological (if misguided) Stephen Glass. And in a twist that keeps the pressure on Sarsgaard, director and screenwriter Billy Ray utilizes plot contrivances to keep us guessing as to where the absolute truth lay. Glass is so charismatic, and Lane so bland; Sarsgaard inherited, in his role, the dual challenge of convincing the other characters in the film of his beliefs… and the film’s audience as well.
Ultimately, it’s that performance, and the delicate handling of the historically true story by Billy Ray, that allows “Shattered Glass” to effectively focus on the ethics of reporting as well as the (perhaps more interesting) psychology of human interaction vis-à-vis the modern office. It’s fascinating to watch the other reports band about Glass because they perceive that’s what they should do – after all, Lane is the boss, isn’t he? That makes him the bad guy, doesn’t it? And with Christensen’s boyish looks and swimming eyes hiding behind smart little glasses, it’s tremendously difficult to believe that Glass could be making up all these stories.
Having read this review, you know the truth; and yet you will be caught up in Glass’ theatrics regardless. It’s the unattractive blandness of the truth pitted against the dynamic glory of fiction; who would not choose the latter? Watch “Shattered Glass” and you’ll feel that struggle wrest within you; for what better result could Billy Ray have hoped?