[Screen It]


(2003) (Hayden Christensen, Peter Sarsgaard) (PG-13)

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Drama: The editor of a prestigious magazine becomes increasingly suspicious about the validity of part or all of the feature stories written by his young star writer.
It's 1998 and Stephen Glass (HAYDEN CHRISTENSEN) is a hotshot journalistic reporter for the highly regarded The New Republic, a publication noted as being the "In-flight magazine of Air Force One." Working alongside the likes of other young staffers such as Caitlin Avery (CHLOE SEVIGNY) and Amy Brand (MELANIE LYNSKEY), Stephen is the toast of the publication thanks to his flamboyant pitches and resultant stories. That's much to the dismay of fellow writer Chuck Lane (PETER SARSGAARD) who can't match Glass' style.

Their editor, Michael Kelly (HANK AZARIA), occasionally questions Stephen on the facts, but otherwise trusts his star journalist. When Kelly is fired over a dispute with the magazine's owner, however, Chuck is named editor, casting a sour spell over the office. It only gets worse when Chuck begins investigating a series of allegations made by Adam Penenberg (STEVE ZAHN) of the online publication Forbes Digital Tool.

With the aid of staffer Andie Fox (ROSARIO DAWSON), Adam has discovered what he believes are falsehoods in Stephen's story about an Internet hacker. As he digs deeper for the truth, Chuck must try to figure out whether Glass is on the up and up, or whether the high flying young journalist - who adamantly stands behind the validity of his work and comes up with explanations or excuses for every discovery - has made up everything.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
From just about the time they learn how to communicate until the day they die, most people lie in one form or another. Some do it not to hurt others' feelings ("No, that dress does not make you look fat") or out of vanity (regarding their age, weight, true hair color, etc.). Others do it as a means of trying to get out of trouble ("Bobby broke the dish" or "I did not have sexual relations with that woman").

The interesting and/or sad ones are those who do it for the thrill of it all (to see how far they can push the envelope and still get away with it) or in an effort to boost their image among others. The latter would seem to explain - to some degree - what motivated journalist Stephen Glass to fabricate all or parts of the many articles he wrote for "The New Republic" in the late 1990s.

Glass may have since been overshadowed by recent similar doings by Jayson Blair of the New York Times (since the Times' circulation is just a wee bit bigger than the publication known as the "The In-flight Magazine of Air Fore One"), but his story is nevertheless intriguing.

As is "Shattered Glass," the movie about him and his eventual outing by his editor Chuck Lane and others. Drawing comparisons to "All the President's Men" seems inevitable - considering that both feature journalists digging deep to uncover lies, corruption and the like - but this is a much smaller pic with less historical significance.

That's not meant to imply, however, that it's not a fun, engaging or interesting cinematic experience. Since I knew the general if not particular details about Glass' story, I wasn't sure how well the film would work for those of us in the know. After all, since the conclusion is already a given, I wondered whether the picture would be able to engage me from start to finish.

I'm happy to report that the answer is a resounding yes. Thanks to good performances, a solid script and just the right directorial touch by writer/director Billy Ray (who makes his directorial debut after penning the likes of "Hart's War" and "Volcano") the film works and turns into a fun bit of cinematic investigative journalism.

Some may complain, however, that the effort doesn't delve too deeply into Glass' psyche or the reasons why he made up most of his stories. That's a valid point, but it doesn't really detract from the viewing experience.

Using the character's journalism speech to students at his high school alma mater as bookends and symbolic asides to the main plot, the filmmakers jump right into the onset of the brouhaha. Perhaps considering that the majority of viewers might not be familiar with the true story, they also set up the plot so that one isn't sure of the truth until near the end.

Had everything been fictitious, that might have added an extra layer of intrigue to the offering, particularly since the mystery is gone for those familiar with the truth. Nevertheless, the overall effort still works rather well as we see the mechanism of truth working its course along with the liar and his fabricated world progressively unraveling.

What makes the film work rather well are the performances from the leads. Playing Glass, Hayden Christensen ("Life as a House," the last two "Star Wars" films) excels at creating a person who's endearing yet repellant and mature but childlike. I can't say how true to life the performance is, but it certainly works in maintaining our interest in the character and even makes us feel sorry for him as he progressively digs a deeper hole for himself.

Other standouts include Peter Sarsgaard ("The Salton Sea," "Boys Don't Cry") as Glass' editor who becomes increasingly suspicious yet initially fair about the validity of his reporter's stories. Although the overall "He's out to get me" thread on the part of Glass' character isn't played out enough to make us believe any of it, Sarsgaard is quite good in his role.

As are Hank Azaria ("American's Sweethearts," "Mystery Men") as Glass' former editor (who died recently covering the military actions in Iraq) and Steve Zahn ("Daddy Day Care," "Joy Ride") as the online reporter who becomes suspicious of one particular article that turns out to be the tip of the proverbial iceberg and beginning of Glass' fall. Notable actresses Chloe Sevigny ("Boys Don't Cry," "The Last Days of Disco") and Rosario Dawson ("25th Hour," "Men in Black II") are okay in their roles, but aren't given enough screen time to do much with them.

While the film obviously has to stick to the truth and related facts (or a close facsimile thereof), the effort might have been more interesting and maybe a little better if either more of a nebulous quality were at play or the protagonist and his motivations more thoroughly examined.

Even so, if you enjoy stories about journalistic detective work where the truth is out there and simply needs to be uncovered through hard work, determinism and honesty, this picture's for you. The surprisingly engaging, intriguing and entertaining "Shattered Glass" rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed October 20, 2003 / Posted November 7, 2003

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