Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Shattered Glass / *** (2003)

Con artists can get just about anywhere if they have the right knack for putting up elaborate facades. Just ask Stephen Glass, who, in the late 1990s, fabricated over two dozen articles in the east coast-based The New Republic, which prided itself (at least at the time) as the news publication of choice aboard Air Force One. Slick as a dog and every bit as calculating, he manipulated his peers and superiors with a fiery demeanor. But such a task only clouded the initial issue, which was that his stories were too flamboyant and ingenious to be legitimate in the first place. From an outside perspective, simply reading one of his famous pieces has the immediate mark of fiction; sensationalism has always been an escape route for writers without substantial inspiration, yes, but there's a fine line separating the sensational from the absurd, too. Just like the old saying goes: if it's too good to be true, then it probably is.

In "Shattered Glass," a loose movie adaptation about those events, we begin to understand just why it was so easy for Glass' colleagues to cave into the trap. This is a guy that is just plain hard to dislike; he comes off as shy, ambitious, flamboyant and professional all in the same breath, fluctuating between traits of confidence and insecurity so relentlessly that it creates the impression his personality is genuine (after all, who doesn't do the same?). In that essence, Stephen achieved everything he desired in the world of journalism. It was just that disastrous little discovery in the end that screwed everything up.

The discovery, according to the film, came with an article spotlighting a computer hacker's blackmail scheme against a major corporation. As Adam Penenberg (Steve Zahn) is told to go hunting for information on the article for a rebuttal piece he is doing for an online magazine, he begins discovering major errors with the work. Jukt Micronics, the business in question, doesn't even exist. Sources turn up missing (some leave brief e-mails or messages saying that they don't want to talk on the subject anymore). Soon it becomes a game between Stephen and his growing board of opponents as to who can stay ahead of the game without tripping up. Can the ever-resourceful Glass manage to pull a fast one and keep his story looking authentic? Or will the naysayers persevere in their attempt to discredit the ever-so-popular publication?

Glass is played here by Hayden Christensen, a guy who has the kind of pretty-boy innocence necessary for such a role. He shows up almost completely on-key with the persona; in fact, when the script requires Glass to react in specific ways, Christensen actually takes the drama up a notch with little behavior quirks that would otherwise be ignored by most other actors. The more tense moments come not when the character is fighting outside sources, but rather when he's trying to defend himself to his boss Chuck (Peter Sarsgaard), a new employee of the publication who hasn't quite fallen for the elaborate act enough for him to be blinded from what is obvious.

The movie is perhaps more well written than most would give it credit for. Light on story but heavy on details, "Shattered Glass" uses specific events and dialogue exchanges as the primary driving forces behind the plot, not the standard fits of tension or excitement you would ordinarily expect out of such a premise. That may hurt the film's sense of dynamics to a certain degree (the movie would work better on DVD, as it lacks the theatrical aura that would warrant showings on the big screen), but it certainly doesn't take away from the fact that the script, written by director Billy Ray, is concise and taut without being skimpy on necessary traits. Ultimately, however, the movie comes down to the deteriorating relationship between the two men more than anything else, as the popular kid faces bad reputation and the disliked newbie is about to experience an upgrade in approval. The twists are there, but they eventually become side details, and both Christensen and Sarsgaard help deliver the goods in the end.

Written by DAVID KEYES

Drama (US); Rated PG-13 for language, sexual references and brief drug use; Running Time - 95 Minutes

Cast & Crew info: 
Hayden Christensen: Stephen Glass
Peter Sarsgaard: Charles "Chuck" Lane
Chloƫ Sevigny: Caitlin Avey
Rosario Dawson: Andy Fox
Melanie Lynskey: Amy Brand
Hank Azaria: Michael Kelly
Steve Zahn: Adam Penenberg

Produced by Craig Baumgarten, Marc Butan, Tove Christensen, Tom Cruise, Gaye Hirsch, Anjalika Mathur, Adam Merims, Tom Ortenberg, Michael Paseornek and Paula Wagner; Directed and written by Billy Ray

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