Exponentially more talented than he's gotten credit for as Anakin Skywalker in "Attack of the Clones," Hayden Christensen has made savvy dramatic choices over the last few years to counterbalance the wooden acting forced upon him by George Lucas.
As the resentful, self-loathing punk son of terminally-ill Kevin Kline in 2001's "Life as a House," he left that forgotten movie's most lasting impression, and now in "Shattered Glass" he absolutely shines as a real-life star reporter for The New Republic in the late 1990s whose ditheringly wholesome but needy, self-effacing humility hid a compulsive urge to fabricate, fabricate, fabricate.
Stephen Glass was the over-eager young journalist's name, and of his 41 often startling, exposé-style stories for the influential Washington, D.C., magazine, 27 were pure bull pucky. Yet through Christensen's economical soft-shoe performance, Glass's zeal and obliging modesty work the same disarming hoodoo on the viewer as they do on his snake-oiled co-workers.
When confronted early on with what seem to be minor inconsistencies in a story about hotel-room partying and sexual harassment during a Young Republicans convention, Glass's beguiling mea culpas play to his inexperience and naiveté (this is a guy who uses the word "gosh" and really seems to mean it). He pronounces himself unworthy of forgiveness, then lets his boss correct him. But he's not disingenuous -- he doesn't completely realize himself what a sticky web of fraud he's weaving. He's doing what he thinks will make good copy.
Writer-director Billy Ray (who penned the multifarious Bruce Willis/Colin Farrell POW drama "Hart's War") approaches "Shattered Glass" with an understated Hitchcockian flair, letting Glass's deception unfold before the audience as it is uncovered by two reporters (Steve Zahn and Rosario Dawson) from Forbes Digital Tool. The now-defunct online high-tech magazine began investigating Glass when they thought they'd been scooped by his story "Hack Heaven," about software firms bidding for the security services of teenager hackers who breached their companies' mainframes.
As his article is unraveled, from fake websites to phony sources, Glass nervously evades and obscures while his editor (the brilliantly low-key Peter Sarsgaard, from "Boys Don't Cry" and "Empire") defends his own tentative suspicions against his angry staff of charmed Glass loyalists (among them icy Chloe Sevigny and apprehensive Melanie Lynskey).
"Shattered Glass" doesn't make clear how all of the 26-year-old reporter's trumped-up articles got past the respected magazine's fact checkers, except to offer up an implication of self-policing with the line "This is The New Republic. If you don't have it cold, you don't turn it in." (From a post-mortum perspective the stories seem overly fabulous, but Christensen subtly and effectively plays Glass's role in each close to his chest.) Neither does it provide a real newsroom sense of deadlines and journalistic pressure, although the sharp aroma of office politics is certainly in the air.
But the film's situational shortcomings are more than balanced by its outstanding performances, by its sly tinge of apropos irony (Glass provides voice-over while speaking to a high school class where his unsuspecting former journalism teacher is holding him up as a role model), and by its layers of factual and emotional complexity.
Although it seems inevitable that a movie (probably a bad TV movie) will also be made about Jayson Blair, the young New York Times writer similarly and more publicly disgraced earlier this year, such a film will have a hard time equaling the depth and humanity of this one.
Run time: 94 mins
In Theaters: Friday 26th December 2003
Box Office USA: $2.1M
Box Office Worldwide: 2
Distributed by: Lions Gate Films Inc.
Production compaines: Cruise/Wagner Productions, Baumgarten Merims Productions
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Fresh: 151 Rotten: 15
IMDB: 7.3 / 10
Director: Billy Ray
Starring: Hayden Christensen as Stephen Glass, Peter Sarsgaard as Charles 'Chuck' Lane, Chloë Sevigny as Caitlin Avey, Rosario Dawson as Andy Fox, Melanie Lynskey as Amy Brand, Hank Azaria as Michael Kelly, Steve Zahn as Adam Penenberg
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