Back before Jayson Blair, Matt Drudge, and Fox News made America question the legitimacy of their media outlets, a 24-year-old wunderkind named Stephen Glass dealt a staggering blow to the notion of journalistic ethics. It was discovered that the majority of the entertaining and enlightening articles he wrote for a plethora of this country's most popular magazines were, in fact, completely fabricated. The story is now a feature film, and even though the subject matter seems like something more suitable for a CBS Sunday Night Movie, Shattered Glass (opens Friday, November 21, at the Little Theatre) is actually one of the better biopics to be released in the last couple of years.
Shattered opens in May 1998, when Glass (Hayden Christensen) is returning, like a conquering king, to his high-school journalism class seven years after his graduation. Since then, Glass has landed a gig writing for The New Republic --- the official in-flight magazine of Air Force One --- as well as several freelance gigs with heavy-hitters like George and Rolling Stone. Despite being younger than most of Carl Bernstein's underwear, Glass's flair for sniffing out interesting stories has made him one of the most exciting and sought-after writers in the country.
The beginning of Glass's downfall manifests itself in two different ways. First from the inside, when his father-figure editor Michael Kelly (Hank Azaria) is fired during a TNR shakeup and replaced with the more skeptical Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard), a former staffer whom Glass repeatedly humbled during pitch meetings. And then externally via two reporters from Forbes Digital (Steve Zahn and Rosario Dawson) who decide to look into a Glass piece called "Hacker Heaven."
Even after a little digging reveals the details of Glass's article to be sketchy, it still takes a long time for the Forbes reporters to comprehend the depths of the sham. They think it's funny because, on the surface, it appears the subject of Glass's article snowed him with a bunch of bogus information just to get his name in the magazine. It would be unthinkable for a reliable publication like TNR to employ a writer who makes up stories, right?
Shattered works really well for one reason alone: It manages to sucker punch the audience (even though they know it's coming) the same way Glass did his readers. When the film starts, Glass is the protagonist, while Lane seems like the shadowy Bad Guy who resents Our Hero for being so damn good at what he does. By the end, though, the roles have flip-flopped, and I can't remember another film that accomplishes this task quite as effectively. In that regard, Shattered doesn't just go through the motions (like, say, Veronica Guerin). It's constantly compelling, and despite the general weasel-like manner of the eventually cornered Glass, we still feel for him. That's totally sick, and proof the film really works.
In a way, we might even understand why Glass did what he did much more than we understand how he managed to get away with it (my God --- it's like The Matrix Revolutions!). How could anyone believe he had time to write and research those articles while attending Georgetown Law? Why didn't any of the staggering number of people Glass filtered his work through (shown in a brilliant montage) stumble upon any of his many inaccuracies? How could the average age of TNR's editorial staff be 26?
Christensen, who looks much more like Frodo Baggins than Anakin Skywalker, is deceptively good as Glass. He nails the quirkiness of a character able to go from an attention-hungry, ass-kissing flirt to a self-effacing depressive in mere seconds. (The pitch meetings, which show Glass riveting his coworkers with amazing ideas and then saying, "It's silly, I know --- I don't know if I'm going to finish it," are priceless.)
But the movie is stolen by Sarsgaard, who comes off as a lost Lowe brother drunk on a level of talent unachieved by any actual Lowe brother. Azaria's character, saintly naïve, is notable because Michael Kelly was killed earlier this year covering Gulf Bowl II.
Shattered, financed by Tom Cruise's production company, is the directorial debut of Billy Ray, a screenwriter for truly dumb films like Hart's War, Volcano, and Color of Night (the last I sheepishly admit to watching many, many times). Ray adapted the script from a Vanity Fair article written by Buzz Bissinger, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist from the Philadelphia Inquirer. I think Shattered would have been just another conventional, truth-based snoozefest in the hands of most directors, so I'm eagerly awaiting Ray's next effort to make sure this wasn't a big fluke.
Nothing --- and I mean nothing --- is more unintentionally hysterical than those propaganda classroom films that polluted the minds of America's youth in the '50s and '60s. Well, maybe George W. Bush, but that's a whole other story.
The Dryden Theatre's Mental Hygiene programs won't make you want to move to Canada, though. There are three of them, at 2, 5, and 8 p.m. on Saturday, November 22. Each runs about 90 minutes, and features various educational themes that wouldn't seem out of place had they been narrated by The Simpsons' Troy McClure (you might not remember him from such films as Are You Popular?, Make Mine Freedom, Good Table Manners, and everyone's favorite, Duck and Cover, which will all be screened on Saturday).
Each short is entertainingly introduced by curator Ken Smith, who literally wrote the book about "Mental Hygiene" movies. (He'll probably have some of them for you to buy, too.) See three, see two, but make sure you see at least one. Otherwise, you may not see Molly Grows Up and you'll miss out on how to handle your first period.
Interested in raw, unsanitized movie ramblings from Jon? Visit his site, Planet Sick-Boy (www.sick-boy.com), or listen to him on WBER's Friday Morning Show.