“Shattered Glass” credibly and absorbingly relates the tale of journalistic fraud perpetrated by young writer Stephen Glass at the New Republic five years back. Narratively, stylistically and thematically a junior-league “All the President’s Men,” relating a cautionary tale rather celebrating a triumph of reporting, screenwriter Billy Ray’s well-mounted and acted directorial bow is too straightforward and narrowly conceived to operate as much more than a fast-track narrative. But pic’s relentless energy, surprisingly impressive change-of-pace turn by “Star Wars'” Hayden Christensen and heightened timeliness in the wake of the New York Times’ Jayson Blair scandal make this a promotable fall title that should generate decent returns for Lions Gate. Filmmakers went to great pains to accurately represent the events and personalities involved in this adaptation of Buzz Bissinger’s 1998 Vanity Fair piece that brought attention to the case, repeatedly interviewing those involved (except for Glass himself) and securing the close cooperation of Chuck Lane, who became the magazine’s editor during Glass’ tenure and finally nailed him for the fabrications that riddled 27 of the 41 articles he wrote for the venerable publication.
Framed by a lecture Glass delivers to admiring students at his high school alma mater, pic presents the central figure as a bright, ingratiating, enterprising fellow, who by age 24 has already established himself as a rising star of Washington, D.C. journalism by virtue of his work in the New Republic as well as in George, Harper’s and Rolling Stone.
Good looking but borderline geeky, Glass is admired and beloved by his colleagues, whom he compliments and assists regularly. All the same, he is presented as having no social or romantic life, and it’s suggested heavy parental pressure causes him to add to his already full schedule by taking up law school studies at night.
All things considered, the New Republic looks like a great place to work at the outset. There’s a lively young group of writers and editors that includes Lane (Peter Sarsgaard), Caitlin Avey (Chloe Sevigny) and Amy Brand (Melanie Lynskey), all presided over by a terrific editor, Michael Kelly, who later moved on to resuscitate the Atlantic Monthly, but was killed in Iraq earlier this year, after filming was completed; the thesp playing him, Hank Azaria, looks nothing like Kelly, but strongly conveys the fair-minded, demanding but encouraging traits for which the widely admired journo was known.
With President Clinton coming under increasing fire from the right and his job imperiled by the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Kelly’s increasingly tough coverage of Clinton is too much for liberal publisher Marty Peretz (Ted Kotcheff). To the staff’s dismay, Peretz fires Kelly and replaces him with the inexperienced, seemingly ineffectual Lane.
It’s during this dark moment that the magazine publishes Glass’ article “Hack Heaven,” about a teen hacker who purportedly extorted big bucks from a software company he had victimized. When editor Kambiz Foroohar (Cas Anvar) and reporter Adam Penenberg (Steve Zahn) at the on-line publication Forbes Digital Tool, upset that they’ve been scooped, check the story out, they discover that nothing checks out; neither the kid nor the software outfit can be located, places are misdescribed or made up, phone numbers can’t be found, calls aren’t returned.
Deglamorized with glasses, moppish hair and unfashionable clothes, Christensen is entirely convincing in expressing the qualities Glass needed to get as far as he did at such an early age. Utterly lacking the stiffness he has exhibited as Anakin Skywalker, thesp here is sensitive, alert to his fellow actors and completely successful in embodying a young man whose deceptions and conniving remain invisible to everyone around him.
Looking unauthoritative in a way that suggests why his colleagues would distrust him as their new editor, Sarsgaard eventually makes Lane into a principled and admirable figure in a judiciously measured perf. Supporting turns are lively and credible down the line.
Ray propels the lamentable tale along at a brisk clip, is clear in his storytelling and mercifully avoids moralizing or self-congratulation. He also punches across some nifty flashbacks showing Glass “covering” certain stories he may or may not ever have researched first-hand, and delivers a nifty montage sequence on how a magazine is edited. What’s missing is anything around the periphery — political, sociological and psychological material that would further inform the immediate events depicted and provide more than incidental speculation as to why Glass did what he did.
Shot mostly in Montreal, pic boasts a clean, appealing look courtesy of Aussie lenser Mandy Walker (“Lantana”). Jeffrey Ford’s no-fat editing and Mychael Danna’s score give a boost to the sense of events rapidly overtaking themselves.