Film review by: Witney Seibold
In mid 1998, Stephen Glass, the 24-year-old writer for The New Republic, was caught. He had been fabricating, in part and in whole, news stories for the past number of years. 27 of the 41 articles he wrote were invented, and passed to his editors and to the public as truth. It’s an interesting story, it’s an interesting analysis of the place of the reporter in the world, and it’s all compellingly put forth in Billy Ray’s new film “Shattered Glass.”
The film follows Stephen (Hayden Christensen) through those years of inventing stories, cutting occasionally to a classroom lecture he makes on the importance of writing for The New Republic. He’s presented as a limp, mealymouthed nerd. Simultaneously charming and awkward; able to tell a funny story to a group of people, but still one to alphabetize the beer at a party. When his boss (Peter Sarsgaard) says with the slightest bit of weight “I need to talk to you,” he comes back almost automatically “Have I done something wrong?” He plays people for sympathy without even realizing it. When the piece that was his undoing, “Hack Heaven,” starts being scrutinized by the now-defunct Forbes Digital, he sticks to his guns, and begins inventing phone numbers, business cards, and websites. It’s all very interesting.
The film is successful as a character study and a storytelling exercise. Christensen, who looked like he was acting at gunpoint in “Star Wars II,” has his milquetoast, pantywaist qualities working in his favor for this film. He’s inexperienced at human interaction, and truly sees no problem with what he does.
But if you think about it, his crimes don’t seem all that wrong. What do news stories mean to us, the readers? What do we do with the information we read? If it’s an entertaining lie, and makes us feel more informed, or provokes any kind of emotional response, hasn’t it done its job? The film may not ask the important questions directly, but it will have viewers thinking about them.
Add Chloë Sevigny and Hank Azaria, and you’ve got a pretty good film.