Shattered Glass


Directed by: Billy Ray
Written by:Billy Ray
Starring: Hayden Christensen, Peter Sarsgaard, Chloe Sevigny, Rosario Dawson, Hank Azaria, Steve Zahn
Released: February 12, 2004
Grade: A

I’m a big fan of any true-to-life film which tells both sides of the story.  Examples which quickly come to mind are Quiz Show and The Insider.  I am now also a fan of director Billy Ray, the man responsible for Shattered Glass.  Too many adaptations are given a touch-up by the Hollywood cosmetic brush.  Looking at Glass, I’m sure there are a few scenes which didn’t quite happen the way the film leads us to believe but the overall package appears real, honest and truthful.

The New Republic is a leading American magazine.  On two occasions during the film it is pointed out to us that it’s “the official in-flight magazine of Air Force One”.  The magazine has a relatively small staff and one of those between 1996 and 1998 was Stephen Glass.  Glass was a rising young journalist and the talk of the town in media circles.  Not only did he write for The New Republic but he also published articles for George, Rolling Stone and Policy Review.

On May 18, 1998, Stephen Glass published an article entitled “Hack Heaven”.  It was a piece about how major computer companies were paying off hackers to stop targeting their sites.  A journalist for an online magazine, Adam Penenberg, read Glass’s article then started to research the facts himself to find out why he didn’t know about it first.  It turns out there was a good reason – the article was a complete hoax.

Penenberg approached Glass and The New Republic’s editor Chuck Lane with his claims and threatened to go public with the discovery.  Glass tried to cover his tracks by fabricating notes, creating dodgy websites and phone listings.  Lane initially stood by his man but soon he too was questioning Glass.  In the end, Glass was fired, Penenberg’s article published and a wave of media attention attracted.  A subsequent review of Glass’s previous works found over 20 articles were either partially or fully fabricated.  The illustrious career of this budding 25-year-old had come to an end.

Hayden Christensen (who we all know as Anakin from the new Star Wars movies) gives his best performance.  I like how he relies on repetitive sayings (such as “a million times”) and uses his charm to keep everyone under his spell.  Generating the most buzz is co-star Peter Sarsgaard who found himself nominated for a Golden Globe and only just missed a similar nod at the Oscars.  He brilliantly underplays his Chuck Lane character and isn’t the stereotypical angry boss.  His character always tries to look cool and composed on the outside but through Sarsgaard’s wonderful performance, we sense the lingering doubt and lack of self confidence that swarms his life.

For director Billy Ray, this is his first time behind the camera and he’ll have many more opportunities.  The film is set largely in a small office but he still creates tension and excitement as the story builds.  I also liked his introduction with Glass in the classroom along with the creative opening credits.  It’s exciting to think he did all of this on a budget of just $6m.

Stephen Glass is a very interesting character and once you’ve seen the movie you can check out the tonnes of great material on the internet.  You’ll find all his bogus articles along with some of the other false notes and websites he developed to cover his tracks.  To me, it’s simply fascinating that someone could deceive for so long and if you want to see how he did it, take two hours out of your day and try Shattered Glass.