say your piece

158 20 NOVEMBER 2003
The Truth About Why We Believe Lies
By Jeremy Mathews

“Shattered Glass”
Lions Gate Films
Written and directed by Billy Ray, based on the article by Buzz Bissinger
Produced by Craig Baumgarten, Marc Butan, Tove Christensen, Gaye Hirsch and Adam Merims

Starring Hayden Christensen, Peter Sarsgaard, Chloë Sevigny, Melanie Lynskey, Steve Zahn, Hank Azaria, Rosario Dawson, Luke Kirby and Jamie Elman
Rated R
(out of four)

“Shattered Glass” shows that Steven Glass probably exhausted more energy to maintain his lies than he would have with the truth. The likable go-getter reporter who fabricated 27 of the 41 stories he wrote for The New Republic could probably have researched a factual story in the same amount of time it took him to make up people, companies, laws and notes.

But it wouldn’t have so smoothly fit into what the readers and Glass’ associates wanted to believe.

Writer/director Billy Ray’s film studies the Glass drama through the office politics and personal turmoil that a life’s thread of lies altered, up until the lies turned into a noose that hanged Glass’ career and damaged his prestigious magazine’s reputation in 1998. Perhaps the scariest thing about Glass is that he always seemed the model journalist—eager to please and improve, helpful to everyone on staff.

“Shattered Glass” shows a man whose office conduct and ability to spin a yarn put him in such good favor that no one would suspect that his stories were fabrications, even though it’s rather obvious reading over them now. His apparent knack for finding intriguing stories and writing about them well earned him offers from notable publications including The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s and Rolling Stone.

Hayden Christensen, best known for his uncharacteristically stiff performance as Anakin Skywalker in “Star Wars: Episode II—Attack of the Clones,” offers his best performance to date as the pleasantly neurotic Glass. Christensen takes on a love-hungry personality that, regardless of how much he looks or sound like the actual Glass, always feels like the character rather than the actor.

But Glass himself is an actor of sorts. He improvises outlandish excuses that grow more and more unlikely as his stories unravel. No one wants to believe this unraveling because Glass is a nice, charming guy.

He wows his fellow writer/editors in meetings as he explains his latest wonderfully perfect investigations, then adds that the story is silly and he’s probably not going to use it—which, of course, isn’t true. He helpfully watches out for his co-workers with meticulously edited drafts of their stories and checking their facts. He buys the junky trinkets that the magazine’s secretary sells on the side. His modesty only makes his colleagues like him more, and they worry that he’s overworking himself.

The film’s five years of hindsight add a new dimension to the too-good-to-be-true tales of fiction. As Glass talked about how a radio station put him on the air after the Evander Holyfield/Mike Tyson incident when he claimed to be an expert on biting, it’s clear that checking this story would be as simple as calling the radio station. Or contacting people from one of the companies that he made up. But after his stories sneaked past The New Republic’s fact-checking department on the basis of his fabricated notes, people never complained about being misrepresented because they didn’t exist, and the sheer fiction of the pieces worked to Glass’s advantage.

Ray presents his material through a talk that Glass gives to his old journalism teacher’s class. Through this, the film re-enacts some of Glass’ stories and tells the story of the writer’s relationship with former New Republic editor Mike Kelly (Hank Azaria). Kelly brought Glass on and believed his version of a story when a Young Republican convention organizer challenged claims that some students were smoking pot, getting drunk and engaging in sexual misconduct.

Writer/associate editor Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard) takes over as editor after the New Republic’s publisher fires Kelly over disagreements over content. Many of the writers are loyal to Kelly and are suspicious of Lane’s motives, putting him at a disadvantage when a story begins to look suspect.

The excellent Chloë Sevigny plays Caitlin Avery, a good friend of Glass and loyal to Kelly. Avery looks out for Glass, advising him on his articles and telling him not to go to law school at night—which he does anyway to please his parents.

“Shattered Glass” puts this desire to please on the top of Glass’ motivations. “Are you mad at me?” he asks people when they catch him lying. He seems to believe that whatever he does, it’s in the name of giving the people the type of stories that they want. Since Kelly looked out for his writers, he expects Lane to do it, even when the writer is in the wrong. He doesn’t expect anyone to object to this, and even when he’s obviously caught at various offenses, he still tries to weasel his way out of it.

The height of this behavior comes in an intense sequence when Lane has Glass take him to the site of a story on hackers to show him how everything happened. This comes after reporter Adam Penenberg (Steve Zahn) from Forbes Digital Tool online magazine—a far less esteemed publication than The New Republic’s status as “the in-flight magazine of Air Force One”—tries to follow up on with the hacker and company and informs Lane that no element of the story checks out.

And in a way, we wish it would. The principal cast makes the film believable with a series of wisely, if unconventionally, assigned roles, with Christensen’s work at the center. These good people don’t deserve what the person they believe is their friend has done to them.

We like Glass as his colleagues do because he tells us what we want to believe in an energetic, yet not kiss-ass, fashion. We want to go on believing that his stories are true, or that he was misled. And that is perhaps the scariest part.

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