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"Shattered Glass" Review


Title: Shattered Glass

Starring: Peter Sarsgaard, Rosario Dawson, ChloŽ Sevigny, Jamie Elman, Hayden Christensen

Written by: Buzz Bissinger, Billy Ray

Directed by: Billy Ray

Rating: PG-13 for language, sexual references and brief drug use.

Review by Stephen Silver

On the last day of my last journalism class my last year in college, the professor gave us one last piece of advice that seemed so obvious that she hadn't thought to mention it at all in the four months previous: "There will be days in your journalism career," she said, "when you will be up against deadline, when sources will have not called you back, when the pressure is getting to you, when you will be tempted to make things up. The key to being a good journalist is to resist the temptation."

Stephen Glass, who by all accounts went to even better schools (Highland Park High School outside Chicago, followed by Penn) than I did, ikely heard that speech himself, possibly from the proud high school journalism teacher whom we see him with on screen. But, for reasons we'll likely never know, he didn't listen and thus, working at The New Republic at the age of 24, ended up the focal point of one of the most notorious journalistic scandals in history- one that foreshadowed this year's Jayson Blair affair at the New York Times.

"Shattered Glass" is the story of how this young man, who could pass as a teenager, snookered the editors and factcheckers of one of America's most prestigious magazines into printing at least a dozen pieces in which people, places, and events were invented out of thin air by the author. We learn how he did it, but not why- really, because why he did it is beside the point, and he may not even know himself.

The film, the first by writer/director Billy Ray, is an insiderish but impeccably balanced look at the business of journalism. Yet the film is not necessarily out of the reach of those who have never heard of TNR and are unconcerned with "elite media"; anyone who has been "in over their head" in a job can likely relate to Glass' predicament, if not his actions.

What's may be most astonishing about "Shattered Glass" is that such a venerable journal of opinion as the New Republic is staffed by people who look like they stepped off the set of "The O.C."- the median age of the staff in '98, we're told, was 26 and Peter Saarsgard (as editor Charles Lane) doesn't look a day over 30. It's also unlikely the real staff was as good-looking as the movie version; Chloe Sevigny and Melanie Lynskey play reporters, while Hank Azaria portrays, but certainly does not much resemble, the legendary former TNR editor Michael Kelly. (The film is dedicated to Kelly, who was killed in Iraq in April while covering the war there.)

Starring as Glass, between "Star Wars" films, is Hayden Christensen, who at age 22 has already given a better performance than Mark Hamill ever gave in a non-Lucas film. Rather than coming across as a slick charmer, Christensen plays Glass as straddling the line between endearing and creepy, the sort of character seen often in real life but rarely this evocatively on film. Saarsgard is great as well, not playing the editor as a hero, but merely as a guy doing his job. The caught-and-confronted scenes between the two are brilliantly staged, if difficult to watch.

Stephen Glass dropped out of sight following the scandal, later finishing law school, writing a novel based on his experience, and even resurfaced this year as reporter, having a piece published in Rolling Stone. The New Republic survived, later recovering its previous reputation under the leadership of another editor barely out of his 20s, Peter Beinart. The magazine world overall learned from the affair, as when I worked at Boston Magazine two years after the Glass affair, a considerably more stringent factchecking regime was in place than the one TNR had used.

Without lionizing either the perpetrator or those who stopped him, Billy Ray has made an outstanding, very fair film about a fascinating chapter in American journalistic history- possibly the best of its kind since Alan J. Pakula's "All the President's Men."

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