This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
The New Republic. The in-flight magazine of Air Force One, and damned if they’ll let anyone forget it. It may not have the biggest circulation but it’s certainly circulated amongst America’s important people, at least according to themselves. Respected, elitist, trusted; the underpaid staff are happy toiling away at the journalistic coalface in the knowledge that what they write is well regarded by the well regarded.
An institution rather than a magazine, the unthinkable happens in 1998 when an article by TNR‘s star cub reporter, Steven Glass is questioned by journalists from Forbes Digital. Finding the details of Glass’ Hack Heaven difficult to digest, a little digging shows that the piece is a complete fabrication. After an internal inquest, over half of Glass’ output is revealed to be partially or completely fantastical. Left with egg on their faces and bruises on their ego, the magazine was never quite the same again.
Shattered Glass tells the story of this turbulent little period, with Hayden ‘Darth Vader Jnr.’ Christensen trying to prove that the pen is mightier than the lightsaber. Okay, enough of the Star Wars references already, but undeniably the main hook for the film comes not from the relatively obscure and largely innocuous mini-scandal that the movie portrays but as a test of Christensen’s ability after the much mocked ‘dramatic’ scenes between Christensen and Natalie Portman. If nothing else, Shattered Glass proves that it’s just sloppy writing and sloppy direction that ruined those scenes and that the boy does have at least a little talent to play with.
Oddly, when Shattered Glass is at it’s most interesting it’s dealing only tangentially with it’s titular liemonger. The rigorous editorial processes of TNR and how Glass was able to diddle their fact checking procedures for so long make for an informative, if somewhat dry segment. When it’s spending most of the time delving into Glass’ character it’s limited in the main by Glass himself. Self effacing, considerate but with an overwhelming urge to see his name in print, Glass comes across as misguided rather than malevolent; a man who just doesn’t know when to stop inventing facts and own up.
Even if you take his Mr. Nice Guy act as exactly that – an act – a few cooked stories about young republicans and imaginary hackers hardly marks him out as the world’s most notorious criminal. Most of the latter half of the movie plays as a Wildean farce rather than a character study, as Glass pulls out all the stops to prevent his editor Chuck (Peter Sarsgaard) finding out how full of holes his Hack Heaven piece is. The fact that the story is entirely composed of one big hole doesn’t help matters, and how Glass ever convinced anyone of it’s validity and how he managed to evade detection for so long is something of a mystery that’s not dwelt on for any length of time, other than to suggest people gave him a bit of slack because they liked him.
In fact, it’s an almost entirely unbelievable story that doesn’t gain any more credibility from the fact that it actually occurred. It’s a mildly intriguing tale, but in the final analysis of the fallout it’s not much more of a blip on the radar for all but the most political publication obsessed amongst us, and I can’t imagine there’s a huge surplus of them in society at large.
Taken as a conventional drama, it’s perfectly acceptable entertainment that’s sadly limited more by the characters and events it portrays than by any lack of talent or effort either in front of or behind the camera. Billy Ray, parlaying his successful country single Achy Breaky Heart into a career behind the camera directs everything with the urgency required to show how swiftly Glass’ house of cards came tumbling down and gets performances from the cast that are never less than adequate at their absolute worst, and generally rather decent.
As mentioned above, Christensen will do much to dispel his doubters and his supporting cast are limited more by an absence of face time than an absence of talent. It seems like the only reason we should give much of a monkey’s about Chuck’s dilemmas as to whether to back or sack his writer comes from the fact that he’s got a baby, which doesn’t really cut it as character development these days. Similarly Glass’ co-writers are rendered somewhat interchangeable by a lack time to show any differentiating features.
Shattered Glass is certainly flawed, but not in any way that’s going to cause offence. It’s a textbook example of a decent film, hampered only by the source material allowing for neither hi-octane car chases or compelling characters without straying as far from the source material as Glass himself did. While this might perhaps have been fitting, this telling shows more integrity than it’s subject did and should be applauded for it, though not showered in plaudits.