Worth A Look: 15.87%
Pretty Bad: 9.52%
Total Crap: 6.35%
6 reviews, 27 user ratings
by Chris Parry
Shattered Glass pissed me off. It pissed me off a lot, in fact. Not because it's a bad movie, because it isn't. Not because it was poorly made, because in fact it wasn't. Not because the performances are bad, or because the writing is sub-par - the film survives on those counts too. So what cheesed me off about an otherwise well-made, well-acted, well-presented film based on a compelling story that has been based on real events? Just that every person shown seems to have all the common sense of a teenage model.Stephen Glass was not a good guy. When Shattered Glass opens, you'd be forgiven for thinking he's a hell of a dude, liked by all, producing compelling stories for his employer, the New Republic, and generally being the kind of young, driven journalist that we could use a few more of around the media industry these days. The only problem is, Stephen Glass is exactly the kind of journalist we have too many of - he's quick to publish, even if his facts aren't so factual. And when the facts aren't there, he simply makes them up.
"When you're smarter than the smart people on the screen, it's time to flee."
Glass was the star of the media world when his pieces made waves across the nation. Revealing things other journalists wish they'd had the balls to explore, he reveled in the limelight, portraying himself as a self-effacing nice guy who just happened to be good at what he does. The film version of his rise to fame, and quick decline from same, documents exactly how a kid with little or no journalism experience managed to blow onto the scene, be the hottest thing in town, and then self-destruct when his shortcuts were called.
Which all sounds very compelling from an audience point of view... but it's not. In fact, it's not far into Shattered Glass when the truth starts to become apparent to the audience, but as we catch on, it becomes more and more frustrating that nobody on screen does. Even when you'd have to be blind, mentally deranged and living in thee Sudan to not catch on.
Vast quantities of celluloid are used in this production showing Stephen Glass offering silly excuses to implausible coincidences, but when you or I would say "Stephen, you're so busted" and frogmarch the little fool out of the office, his New Republic colleagues instead create defences for him and yell at their editor when he tries to get answers to questions. Stephen's precious, he's special, he messed up but won't again, he didn't mess up and it's just a plot to get back at him... for crying out murphy, HE'S THE BAD GUY! Isn't anyone paying attention here?
The makers of Shattered Glass might say "but that's the point, man." Glass' colleagues, clouded by love for their friend and star reporter, rallied to his defense when they should have been damning him to a lifetime of burger-flipping. Director Billy Ray, who penned Volcano and Hart's War prior to making this, his directorial debut, might point out that this kind of thing goes on in the world of big media a lot more than it should, and that more often than not, those guilty of the crimes are not led out to a firing squad, but rather turned into mini-celebrities.
And he'd be right.
As American troops trudged off to war against Iraq this year, New York Times reporter Charlie LeDuff quoted a Lieutenant Commander Beidler as having called America "fat", and associating the war effort with the need for oil. Beidler wrote to the Times alleging that he'd said no such thing, and pointed out how comments and actions attributed to his wife were also far from correct. In response, a NY Times editor wrote Beidler that LeDuff "thinks that he accurately represented his interview with you and your wife, and therefore so do I. If you have another encounter some day with The New York Times, I hope its outcome is more satisfactory to you." Free to go about his work unrebuked, it was revealed some time later that LeDuff had subsequently taken a large part of a front page story on kayaking down the Los Angeles River from someone else's book on the topic.
One of LeDuff's friends during his life at the Times was a guy called Jayson Blair. Remember him? He was found to have made up reams of stories that ran in the paper of record, before he was finally sprung as a plagiarist and summarily drummed out of the company - and into a cushy job at another outlet. In fact, Esquire had asked Blair to review this film "as a joke", before backing out of the decision at the zero hour.
Janet Cooke enjoyed her time at The Washington Post, winning a Pulitzer Prize for her story on Jimmy, an 8-year-old kid trapped in a family embroiled in the drug world. Cooke alleged that 'Jimmy' was a heroin addict already and aspired to be a dealer when he grew up. Only problem? There was no Jimmy. It was only when a public outcry saw the state begin a fervent search for the kid that Cooke admitted her scam and her employers sent back her Pulitzer. It might also be worth noting that the feature film rights to Cooke's account of the ordeal were eventually optioned - with a pricetag of $1.5m.
Which all leaves me very torn on the topic of Shattered Glass. On one hand, the fast and loose way that new media deals with ethics needs greater investigation because, let's face it, the media of the western world is at its lowest point in history right now. But Shattered Glass, if it sought to point out these issues, fails miserably on all fronts. Absent was any mention of the fact that the New Republic's fact checking department was only set up following the serial plagiarism of another writer before Glass, as was the fact that Glass himself was given the responsibility of creating that department. Even more surprising, Glass worked as a fact-checker at Harpers, which allowed him to 'fact check' his own piece.
If this were really a film about the absence of accountability in the world of new media, these tidbits would surely have warranted a mention. Such revelations would change the audience's viewpoint on Glass entirely - the excuse that he 'just got carried away because of the pressure' has no basis in believability when you take into account that he witnessed another writer being run out of town on a rail doing the exact same thing he was doing. It also takes sole blame away from Glass and places it equally on the shoulders of the industry itself, leaving the business looking mighty shady and the individual looking far more desperate for attention.
Sadly, the way things stand, nobody in the audience of this film comes out wanting more accountability in the media, rather they come out thinking "Well that Glass kid was an adorable little wacko, wasn't he?" A great opportunity to shine a big bright light of truth on the media world has been fumbled, so that Hayden Christensen can blink and stutter and make us think "oh, look how cute the poor deluded genius is..."
There's most definitely a good movie in Shattered Glass, but I'm damned if it would stretch to feature length. At the halfway stage, we've pretty much figured out all we're going to figure out, and from that point on all we have is the joy of watching a broken man get more and more broken as he lies to cover lies that cover lies. More than once I yelled at the screen, "ARE YOU PEOPLE JUST STUPID?!" as what should have been the end of the story stretched longer and longer and longer still with some of the lamest excuses since Reagan said "I don't remember" 81 times.
Okay, I'm being hard on the film. It's not awful. It's not a waste of eight bucks. It features some great performances by Peter Sarsgaard and Hank Azaria (give this guy a dramatic leading role already!) and shows director Ray as a patient sort who perhaps deserves another shot at the directorial brass ring. But much as last year's Rollerball remake completely missed the point of the original, it's my view that Shattered Glass was a film about a story that didn't need to be told, because a much more important story was being neglected.Salon's Jack Safer wrote, after Glass was busted in 1998, "If there's any moral to be taken from this story, it should be 'No more excuses.'" After watching about 1700 of them roll out of the mouth of Hayden Christensen in Shattered Glass, I tend to agree.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=8286&reviewer=1
originally posted: 12/27/03 16:33:48
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.
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