Lane began the extraordinary process of unraveling his employee’s fantasies and fabrications.
An Illusion review by Joan Ellis
A terrific movie is coming your way. “Shattered Glass” is based on the story of Stephen Glass – why he was hired and fired by The New Republic in the bubble years of the late ‘90s. If you do not believe that a back office story at a magazine can be the stuff of gripping suspense, just go straight out and see for yourself. Certainly you would not believe a word of Glass’s story if it were not true. But it is.
Why was he hired? At the end of the decade, the journal of political opinion had become an office of writers whose median age was 26. Steve Glass (Hayden Christensen), 24, fit right in. A dropper of names and an embellisher of stories, he amused readers and staff alike and brought comic relief, of a sort, to story conferences.
He made much of his loyalty to Editor Michael Kelly (Hank Azaria) when he was fired, much also of his disdain for Charles Lane (Peter Saarsgard) who replaced Kelly. While playing office politics, Glass pounded out several dozen stories – twenty-seven of them partly or fully fabricated – while earning the loyalty of the staff. He also betrayed friendships, covered his tracks with lies, and became intolerably obsequious whenever he was caught.
Both Kelly and Lane represented the best of ethics in journalism. If their goal was to get the truth to their readers, their method was a tight system of fact-checking, proofing, and re-checking. Not much slipped through their safety net.
When the magazine published a Steve Glass story on computer hackers, Adam Penenberg (Steve Zahn) of Forbes Digital, an online magazine, found a bald contradiction in Glass’s writing. Fueled by the prospect of catching an iconic magazine in chicanery, Penenberg called editor Chuck Lane and challenged Glass’s story. Lane began the extraordinary process of unraveling his employee’s fantasies and fabrications.
Somewhere during this process the movie transcends office politics to become a metaphor for contemporary deceit on all fronts. As it is with the Bush administration and a host of corporations and professionals we once trusted, Stephen Glass may have gotten away with his subterfuge for a long time because no one believed he could cheat such a grand scale. So numerous and porous were his lies that they became his insulation. He was a dishonest weakling in an honorable profession, a traitor to the standards set by journalists of the caliber of Michael Kelly and Chuck Lane.
Hank Azaria, as Michael Kelly (who died this year in the Iraq war), and Peter Sarsgaard as Chuck Lane simply could not be better. They play their roles with great subtlety and conviction. Hayden Christensen, playing Glass, has a tough assignment playing a moral coward. This is not the shortest movie of all time. It only seems so because it’s so good. By the time Chuck Lane says, “Stop pitching, Steve; it’s over,” the audience is not ready to go home.
Copyright (c) Illusion
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