A review of “Shattered Glass” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ****

Rating: PG-13 for language, adult situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 43 minutes

 

 

Journalism is the art of capturing behavior, a craft fluently evident in Billy Ray’s polished re-telling of the scandalous plagiaristic disgrace of writer Stephen Glass.

Washington, D.C., 1998.  Glass (Hayden Christensen) is one of journalism’s golden boys – bright, young, and at the top of his game.  The ambitious Glass is enjoying his tenure as a staff essayist for that bastion of American political commentary (and Air Force One’s only in-flight mag), The New Republic.

Glass is a classic ass-kisser, insinuating himself into his co-workers lives and charming the pants off the staff while compiling an impressive portfolio of seductive stories and editorials. He flourishes under the tutelage of liberal TNR editor Michael Kelly (Hank Azaria), who nobly defends his writers at all costs.  When Kelly is summarily fired and replaced by the unflappable (and unprepared) Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard), the climate of TNR’s cerebral boiler room shifts and Glass’ Golden Boy status is subtly tarnished.

Somewhere along the technological super-highway, on-line Forbes Digital Tool scribe Adam Penenberg (Steve Zahn) is called to the carpet by his editor for missing an important story on a teen hacker who strong-armed a deal with the very company he was hacking into (Glass’ “Hack Heaven”).  Penenberg, bummed by being one-upped by the snobbiest rag in the biz, starts fact-checking Glass’ breakthrough account, and finds that he can’t verify a single one of Glass’ sources.  Lane has his suspicions as well.

  What goes up must come down, and Glass comes down in spectacular fashion.  Did Glass get snowed, or did he pull off a blizzard of a snow job?  Has he been “cooking” his pieces all along, or is he the victim of a vicious journalistic hoax? Lies pile on lies while Glass tangles his web with careless deceit.

Ray has crafted a sharp and intelligent drama about the cutthroat nature of gotcha journalism and the hardcore intellectualism of a periodical think tank.  The desperation to succeed and the indefensible ethics that can get you there are rife with melodrama.  “Glass” is beautifully executed, from the sweet smell of success to the excruciating, squirm-in-your-seat suspense of a Goliath cover-up.

Performances are aces from top to bottom, not a misstep in sight.  Christensen rekindles faith (post “Star Wars Episode II” fiasco) in his abilities to convey restrained emotion – brilliant bravado masking an acute fear of failure.  Zahn does drama equally as well as he does comedy, and Sarsgaard is pitch-perfect as the imperturbable wrong-place/wrong-time guy.

One of the year’s most compelling films, “Glass” is unforgettable.