Last year, Jayson Blair was caught by the New York Times, who found that the young reporter was fabricating stories. Instead of fading out into the abyss, Blair instead wrote a book about his experiences, "Burning Down My Master's House." The whole thing reminded me somewhat of a "Seinfeld" episode, where Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss) announces that she's going to be the ghost writer for her boss's book. Seinfeld responds, "Maybe I'll get someone to ghost read it." Fortunately, audiences weren't buying into Blair's side of the story, and the book has so far flopped.
Another book, "The Fabulist", fared similarly several years ago. That book was written by Stephen Glass, a young journalist who wrote about his experiences writing for the New Republic. Or, more accurately, making up stories for the New Republic. "Shattered Glass", reportedly unauthorized, is an excellent retelling of the writer's days working at the paper before he was found out.
Glass (Hayden Christensen, actually recovering from the horrific performance in "Star Wars: Episode II") is a promising young writer who thought that he could make more of an impression if he fabricated his stories instead of actually doing the work. When the pressure of trying to lead the pack and come up with not only stories - but the best stories - got too much to bear, that's when Glass turned to fiction. When one article slipped past, then more were waiting in line. 27 of the 41 stories he wrote for the magazine were partially or entirely false. "Are you mad at me?" is Glass's catch-phrase, as while the journalist was skilled at working the room and getting information, he had a tremendous need to be liked.
Things start sliding away from Glass when editor Michael Kelly (Hank Azaria) is fired in order to bring in Charles Lane (Peter Saarsgard). Glass comes up with a story about a hacker who takes down a major company's website. The hacker even has his own agent. It was an immensely popular story for Glass. It was also entirely fake. Adam Penenberg (Steve Zahn) is one of the editors at Forbes Online, and tries to do some research on the hacker piece to form a companion story, only to find that not a single element of the story - not the company, not the hacker, not anything - is actually real.
Superbly structured as a flashback around an event where Glass returns to his old high school journalism class to give a speech, "Shattered Glass" builds slickly, smoothly towards the inevitable. It even plays footage of the made-up events that Glass describes. Director Billy Ray (who also wrote), handles the material perfectly, allowing the audience to get to know Glass, then slowly get the world to tighten around the young writer. With Ray's beautiful montage of the fact-checking and editing process, despite the hole in the process, one still wonders how Glass was able to slip so much smoke through. Another sequence late in the film where Lane cycles through old issues while Glass's voice reads them on the soundtrack is another of the film's several haunting moments.
The performances are first-rate, some unexpectedly great. Christensen is fantastic as Glass, perfectly portraying the need to be liked and the ability to spin, then showing the dread and quick-thinking when confronted with his lie. He's convinced himself of his lies so strongly that he almost believes them. Steve Zahn, known for his comedic work, is confident and compelling in a more dramatic role as the determined online editor. Chloe Sevigny and Melanie Lynskey are also very enjoyable as Glass's protective, loyal co-workers. Peter Saarsgard starts off slowly, but turns outstanding when his character realizes what has happened.
This is a wonderful first directorial effort from Billy Ray. Utterly suspenseful and strongly paced, the picture manages to build a sense of dread that's exceptional, especially considering I knew the ending before the opening credits rolled. A fascinating, highly gripping film.
VIDEO: "Shattered Glass" is presented by Lion's Gate in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is generally a fine transfer from the studio, although there are some minor concerns that show themeselves on occasion. Some hints of grain are consistently visible throughout the film, but that's an intentional element - the real concerns are some minor specks and marks on the print used, a few hints of compression artifacts and some light edge enhancement.
Sharpness and detail remained respectable throughout, if not terrific. The picture simply seemed to display a satisfactory amount of sharpness and definition - while never terribly soft, the picture never quite achieved the kind of clarity it should have. The film's naturalistic color palette appeared accurately rendered, with no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: "Shattered Glass" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, although the 5.1 presentation doesn't seem terribly necessary, given the film's final sound mix. Surrounds go almost completely unused (aside from the the one scene where Christensen's voice is reading the articles on the soundtrack), while the film's outstanding score by Mychael Danna is only given a mild spread across the front speakers. A dialogue-driven piece, the film's focus is the conversations and they do, in fact, come across quite clearly.
EXTRAS: Writer/director Billy Ray and actual editor Charles Lane offer an excellent commentary for the film. Ray provides a very fine discussion of creating the look of the film and striving for accuracy, as well as some tidbits about various topics, such as working with the actors and aspects that didn't work or were noticably altered for the final cut. Lane talks about the office environment of the post, chats about some of the real-life personalities featured in the film and goes over what he thinks of the portrayal of the story in "Shattered Glass". Also included on the DVD is a short "60 Minutes" piece that features an interview with Lane and Glass (Glass: "I wanted every story to be a home run.") Finally, hidden under the Lion's Gate logo on the main menu are a couple of trailers.
Final Thoughts: "Shattered Glass" is an absolute suprise. Similar to this year's docu-drama, "Touching the Void", "Glass" takes the inevitable and makes it positively riveting. The picture's performances are marvelous and key scenes are handled beautifully. I'm very eager to see what director Billy Ray will helm next. Lion's Gate presents this terrific film with fine audio/video quality and a couple of very good supplements. Highly recommended.