Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Shattered Glass

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

SHATTERED GLASS

7/10

USA 2003 : Billy RAY : 95 mins

Though barely reported overseas, the Stephen Glass case sent shockwaves through the world of serious American journalism. A highflying 24-year-old feature-writer on the prestigious New Republic magazine with a string of impressive stories to his credit, Glass was exposed as a fraud when staff on a rival publication exposed one of his articles to rigorous scrutiny. It emerged that the majority of his pieces were wholly or partly fabricated, and he was fired in disgrace by editor Chuck Lane.

In 1998 the Glass story was, ironically enough, turned into an article in a fancy magazine (Vanity Fair) by Buzz Bissinger which forms the basis for writer-director Rays screenplay. Given the nature of the project, one does hope Ray verified every aspect of Bissingers piece with the forensic rigour of a Chuck Lane. Ray reportedly (and repeatedly) interviewed all the key players with the exception of Glass himself (who was presumably too busy with his very autobiographical-sounding novel The Fabulist.)

Ray faced similar problems to those famously encountered by William Goldman on All the Presidents Men: this is a real-life story whose conclusion is widely known, at least by many wholl be interested in seeing the movie. Of course, the Glass affair is no Watergate and Ray must convince us that such a relatively minor tale is deserving of Hollywoods attention, and our own. He manages to do this by keeping the action moving along at a fast clip editor Jeffrey Ford deserves special praise and by concentrating intensely on the two main participants, nimbly shifting focus around the halfway point from Glass (Hayden Christensen) to Lane (Peter Sarsgaard) as the extent of Glasss deceptions come to light.

Sarsgaard has won many critics awards for his performance he’s generally reckoned very unlucky not to be have been nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. He makes Lane initially something of a withdrawn, hesitant figure genuinely grow before our eyes into a man of steely resolve and admirable, idealistic integrity. Virtue is very tricky to portray on screen, but Sarsgaard pulls it off then again, we’ve come to expect no less from this terrifically talented actor: he’s always this good, equally impressive in lauded indies (Boys Dont Cry) and big-budget misfires (K-19 : The Widowmaker). (And, yes, he does always sound this much like John Malkovich.)

Sarsgaards absence from the Oscar ballot is more a matter of the movie than the performance. Shattered Glass is a thoroughly sober, intelligent and careful piece of work – very much a Chuck Lane kind of film, in fact with no weak links among the cast. Star Wars refugee Christensen is suitably appealing/creepy as the semi-sociopathic Glass; Hank Azaria excels as his beloved ex-editor Michael Kelly; Steve Zahn, Rosario Dawson, Melanie Lynskey and Chloe Sevigny make the most of their limited screen time.

And the film, will, of course, be fascinating for anyone connected with journalism (which perhaps explains its popularity among film-critics). But the wider public may well prove harder to satisfy. There are very serious issues being explored here: were told more than once that New Republic is the inflight magazine on Air Force One, and thus a major opinion-former. The Glass/Lane dynamic, meanwhile, will be uncomfortably familiar to anyone who has ever tried to wool over their bossess eyes on even the most trivial of issues.

For all its strengths, however, Shattered Glass does end up a little so whatish. Its often as horribly absorbing as watching a slow-motion car-crash: we know whats happening, we can’t do a thing about it, we can only trace the painful details leading up to the inevitable cataclysm. Only afterwards, however, do we look again and realise that what we witnessed was a toy-truck pile-up a miniature tragedy – and that no actual blood was spilt.

2nd February, 2004
(seen* on VHS in Sunderland, 12th January. Thanks to Sarah Crosby and David Miller)

* trust me

by Neil Young