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Darrel Manson

Shattered Glass

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Anyone else seen it? My review is up.

I thought it very good. Interesting dual telling of story - one version by Glass and one where you see what happened. Also amazing how much people want to believe in someone they like. Even as things were falling apart, people seemed to want to find something to believe.

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Thanks! Your write-up makes me want to see this one.

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I USED to be a journalism teacher ...

Haven't seen this one myself yet, but I'm definitely eager to. FWIW, I thought Katrina Onstad's review in the National Post was interesting:

Everyone likes to be the centre of attention, and so journalists have been eagerly anticipating the release of Shattered Glass, a true story about them. But when I explained the film's premise to my non-journo boyfriend with the excitement of a computer geek anticipating a new version of software -- "Star magazine writer Stephen Glass revealed as fraud!" -- his eyes glazed over. "An entire movie about fact checkers?" he yawned. And the boyfriend has an advantage over most moviegoers: He knows what fact checking is.

Shattered Glass isn't the final word on the decay of journalistic ethics -- Glass's perjuries were far too extreme to be anything but anomalies -- but it's a solid office movie that hints at a different set of problems currently eating away at the profession.

In the late '90s, Glass, a suck-up rich kid, was a hot reporter at the D.C. newsmagazine The New Republic, a journal then staffed by the young, eager and righteous. Three times a day, according to the film, someone would sombrely announce: "This is The New Republic," the way a priest declares: "This is the Bible." Their other favoured catchphrase was the no-less-humble "The New Republic is the in-flight magazine of Air Force One!" Still, circulation topped off at about 81,000.

Perhaps those numbers bothered editor Michael Kelly (killed this year in Iraq). Under his tenure, The New Republic went more pop, grasping for a mainstream profile. Glass was seen as the means to get it. As played by Hayden Christensen with skin-crawling false modesty, he ups the ante of his pitches at editorial meetings, feeding off the laughter and encouragement of his colleagues.

Christensen is great; you can see his brain churning as he tops his own lies, almost surprising himself with his creativity. Gangbangs at Republican conventions; a teenage hacker holding a mega-corporation hostage -- he's a font of quirky stories, everybody's favourite kind.

The other journalists shake their heads in awe: How does Glass constantly find himself at the centre of these remarkable scenes? The answer, of course, is that he doesn't. The stories aren't merely filled with the erroneous, sloppy mistakes that characterize so much journalism, but total fabrications.

With great control, writer-director Billy Ray shows how this weasel in a blazer got away with fictionalizing dozens of pieces run over by fact checkers (editors who call sources and research facts to verify all material). Glass, trained as a checker himself, knew how to work the system, concocting phony Web sites, setting up voice mailboxes, even printing fake business cards. The proud, highbrow tone of The New Republic meant senior editors had no idea how the Internet worked; Kelly appears somehow beholden to this kid, who seemed to possess a magical ability to access entirely new modes of reporting.

When Glass is finally caught in a fib, he's so obsequious and repentant that Kelly (Hank Azaria) looks stunned and ends up comforting the culprit. It's a smart workplace tactic: No one can get mad at someone who's already mad at himself.

The film is a portrait of a brown-noser, a common quality of reporter-liars, if the reputation of Jayson Blair -- the young New York Times reporter caught out this year -- is to be believed. Glass's favourite line is "Are you mad at me?" The only answer is no, because he is such a flatterer, begging his colleagues for help with his stories and bringing Diet Cokes to those burning the midnight oil.

The needy act creates enough smoke to mask his own venal ambition, but like all sociopaths, he wants credit, too. Glass makes sure the secretary announces to a full room that he's receiving calls from prestigious publications like Policy Review and Harper's. When asked: "Are you writing for Policy Review?" he answers: "It's probably nothing." In a room of journalists, the phrase is a red flag that something's awry, but no one wants to see him for what he is. In the family dynamic that is the office dynamic, Christensen is everybody's little brother -- keen, and forgiven. He gives Glass a face of the wounded and desperate, his handsomeness hidden by unfortunate giant glasses. He is a mass of sweaty anxiety echoed by a terrible whiny voice, but still loveable.

The only person impervious to Glass's charms is Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard), a reporter who doesn't play the office's reindeer games. Older, and perhaps burdened by a sombre, unanimated demeanour (if the dingo took his baby, he would definitely be accused of not appearing sufficiently contrite), he looks to be in his own world, one of words and letters. His very presence enrages Glass, who's used to winning people over with a well-placed compliment about a new haircut.

When Kelly is dismissed, Lane moves into the editor's position. At the same time, an Internet reporter named Adam Penenberg (Steve Zahn) is working to expose Glass's frauds. With Lane in place, the great reveal is about to occur. Though journalists will be enthralled, the Glass story -- about a guy who makes stuff up -- isn't always compelling drama; at one point, someone is instructed to "Back away from the computer." It's a bit goofy.

But thankfully, Ray doesn't go for the psychological drama; Glass didn't consult on the film, and he's never given anything away, so his m.o. remains a mystery. Instead of speculation about explanation, Ray makes a movie about the ego of journalism.

Sometimes, he gets things wrong, tacking on a sentimental ending that's too Captain-My-Captain for comfort. Far too much is made of The New Republic's infallibility when just a few years before Glass, another young star, Ruth Shalit, was nailed for plagiarizing in its pages, too. And writers are depicted as almost parodically cutthroat, instead of the neurotic messes that most really are. In one awkward scene, Penenberg refuses to share his byline with a researcher (Rosario Dawson); we're supposed to see him as Glassian in his lust for the spotlight.

While that kind of real estate protection does go on, it's not the biggest plague upon journalism today. The star system is a greater, less discussed problem than the occasional, ugly fabulist (and The Fabulist is the name of the novel Glass released this year, proving how far that star system can carry someone). Even in Canada, our papers and magazines are filled with first-person confessionals about sex toys and bikini waxing, a mirror to reality TV that makes journalists, not news, the subject of most stories (even 10 years ago, I wonder if a lead like the one I wrote for this review would have made it past editing).

Glass knew that colour -- the scene setting, the I-was-there observations of the aloof outsider reporter -- trumps content. But with the exception of the most highly skilled "new journalists" like Tom Wolfe and Joan Didion, colour is the domain of fiction. Subtly, Shattered Glass poses the question: What are we asking of young writers when we expect them to appear at the centre of every story? Maybe we're asking them to be television cameras.

There's a great scene in the film where Amy Brand (Melanie Lynskey), one of Glass's colleagues who's best known for writing policy pieces on ethanol subsidies, presents a draft to a fellow editor (Chlo

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Saw it last night. Loved it, or at least liked it. Not a great film, but a good one (and unlike Veronica Guerin, the reporters in this film actually take notes!). I saw it with a friend of mine who worked with me at the UBC student paper and is now working at CBC Radio; we groaned with dread and laughed in recognition at some of the dialogue and situations here. And given that the title character keeps making up the stupidest lies to cover his ass, we also debated afterwards whether Hayden Christensen (the much-maligned actor who now plays Anakin Skywalker) is a "bad actor" or whether he is a good actor PLAYING a bad actor. smile.gif

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Woo hoo!

I love it when I see a film after Christmas that makes me look back and reassess my Best of the Year list. I haven't seen a film this intensely concerned with ethics since The Insider.

It's a solid piece of work, well-made on all levels. I have one minor complaint: It's way too short. While it follows the true story, it ends in a way that seemed early and abrupt. I wanted an hour more. Perhaps the screenwriters wanted to stick to the facts, and there were too few facts. It feels more like a Long Short Film than a Feature Film. It's a fleeting pleasure.

The performances and the efficient direction make the movie. Christensen is good at convincing us of Glass's resourcefulness and quick wit. Sarsgaard is fantastic as Chuck Lane. Part of my frustration with the film is that I wanted to see his performance go on and on and on, but the story wrapped up too quickly.

Anyway, this is still one of the best films of the year, well worth seeing. I look forward to Billy Ray's next work, and I hope it earns Sarsgaard enough acclaim to win him bigger roles.

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Hmmm, turns out the DVD will have a commentary by the writer-director AND the real Chuck Lane (the Peter Sarsgaard character), as well as a 60 Minutes interview with the real Stephen Glass (the Hayden Christensen character). Could be interesting!

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I watched the DVD the other night. Loved the movie, BTW.

Anyway, the 60 Minutes interview is pretty interesting, as we get to see the real Stephen Glass trying to explain a little bit of what was going through his head. As well we get to see how most people don't buy Stephen's transformation, especially Chuck Lane...

Which takes us to the commentary (of which I watched about 15 min of). Chuck still seems to really feel betrayed and still seems suspicious of Stephen which is clear in the commentary.

Definitely interesting stuff. Check it out this week.

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Hm. I've got a screener, but y'all are interesting me in the bonus features, and I may have to splurge for the retail DVD.

BTW, I posted my short review this week.

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SDG wrote:

: I've got a screener, but y'all are interesting me in the bonus features,

: and I may have to splurge for the retail DVD.

I rented the disc last night and checked out the two bonus features, and I think they're worth seeing once but not necessarily worth picking up for their own sake. Heck, I DON'T have a screener, and I doubt I will buy the film myself -- but if it shows up in a used-video bin, maybe ...

And wow, I have to say, even just SEEING the film (while listening to the commentary) made me want to watch the movie again. I caught a snippet of dialogue, in which Melanie Lynskey's character says she should find a new restaurant because she can't eat the same food every day -- that TOTALLY takes me back to my days at the UBC student newspaper, and how a few of us used to grumble that we ALWAYS ordered from the same Chinese-food place on production night. That's just one of many ways in which this film really gets the FEEL of such an office right.

And the scene where Chuck Lane finally vents some steam and says that not only WILL the other publications have a field day holding this magazine accountable, but those other publications SHOULD hold them accountable, is just fantastic. It really speaks to the heart of Chuck Lane's integrity, and I think the fact that he embodies that integrity in scenes like this more than makes up for the fact that the film's protagonist is a pathological liar -- I come away from the film thinking that there are more Chuck Lanes in this business than Stephen Glasses, I come away from the film thinking that liars of that sort can't and won't survive in this business because there are too many people committed to the truth, or at least, too aware of the fact that their lies will find them out. (Of course, this business is also full of people who, just like real people everywhere, will tend to trust their "friends" more than strangers ... but that just underscores the importance of that scene, in which Chuck Lane emphasizes that we have to hold ourselves up to the same standard of truth to which we hold other people.)

And I come away from the commentary thinking how great it is that people like Chuck Lane and the late Michael Kelly gave the filmmakers so much insight into their side of the story -- the director, Billy Ray, says Kelly in particular was very reluctant to take part in the film, partly possibly because he was embarrassed to have been responsible for the rise of Stephen Glass in the first place, but Billy Ray says he won Kelly's trust by emphasizing that he wanted to tell this story the way a journalist would, and Kelly, out of his professional integrity, wanted to help make sure that the film was as "accurate" an account as it could be.

Speaking of which, there are all sorts of tiny bits of artistic license, and some plot points are telescoped (e.g., what took several phone calls in real life has been edited down to a single phone call in the film) and there are a few composite characters as well (partly necessitated by the fact that some of the people involved would not give the filmmakers legal permission to depict them in the film), but it's fun to listen to the commentary and have the real Chuck Lane point out what is what. And apparently some of those phone calls between reporters are taken verbatim from transcripts that the real-life reporters made!

One thing I kind of subliminally noticed, but didn't really interpret until Billy Ray pointed it out in the commentary is that the first half of the film is shot with a hand-held camera, but there comes a point in the film where the cinematography changes, and the cameras are now set up on tripods etc. This marks the transition from the predominance of Stephen Glass's shifting lies to Chuck Lane's mission to seek the truth. I find it especially interesting, and ironic, that Billy Ray would describe his use of the hand-held camera as "cinema-verit

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Watched the DVD this weekend. This was one time that I felt that, while the movie itself was very well-done, having the DVD commentaries & extras was worth foregoing the theatrical experience. I agree with the positive critiques already posted, so I won't repeat all that.

Peter Sarsgaard's subtle performance as Chuck Lane is worth remarking, though--don't recall having seen him in anything before, so didn't have an image of him when his name came up in other reviews--and especially appreciated the scenes the film provided of his life with his family.

Hayden Christensen--whom I'd previously thought of as a stick-of-wood in the Star Wars prequels--nailed the charming cheater Glass. Reminded me of nearly every plagiarist I've seen before the honor council. "What did I do?...There are so many pressures!...No, it wasn't like that!...I didn't do it!" Uh-huh.

The movie should be required viewing for journalism majors, at least. I'm ordering it for our media collection.

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BethR wrote:

: Peter Sarsgaard's subtle performance as Chuck Lane is worth remarking,

: though--don't recall having seen him in anything before . . .

I remember noticing him in The Salton Sea and K-19: The Widowmaker -- the films themselves are mixed pags, but Sarsgaard is fantastic in both.

Oh, weird. I just checked his IMDB credits, and it seems he played Walter Delacroix in Dead Man Walking -- I'm guessing he's one of the rape-murder victims in the flashbacks? And then I think he went on to play a real-life rapist-murderer in Boys Don't Cry.

: Hayden Christensen--whom I'd previously thought of as a stick-of-wood

: in the Star Wars prequels--nailed the charming cheater Glass.

Did you ever see him in Life as a House?

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BethR wrote:

: Hayden Christensen--whom I'd previously thought of as a stick-of-wood

: in the Star Wars prequels--nailed the charming cheater Glass.

Did you ever see him in Life as a House?

Haven't seen that one yet. Reviews were mixed when it was in theaters, and the impression I got was that it wouldn't tell me anything I didn't already know. Arrogant of me, perhaps. Was I wrong?

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BethR wrote:

: Hayden Christensen--whom I'd previously thought of as a stick-of-wood

: in the Star Wars prequels--nailed the charming cheater Glass.

Did you ever see him in Life as a House?

Haven't seen that one yet. Reviews were mixed when it was in theaters, and the impression I got was that it wouldn't tell me anything I didn't already know. Arrogant of me, perhaps. Was I wrong?

I saw a difference. He's still a bit stiff in the film, but there is an expressiveness that was conspicuously missing in Episode II. I think he's going to get the right role one day (after Episode III) and surprise everyone. Then again, I haven't seen Shattered Glass yet - I'll get to it after I finish a paper for class this week - so I'm hoping that he's on the pathway to becoming a better actor.

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The one thing I remember about Life as a House is that I did a guest spot on a radio show shortly after I saw it, and since Hayden Christensen is a former Vancouverite, I said something to the effect that he did Vancouver proud, and if his performance in Episode II (which was still several months away) sucked, it would be due to bad direction.

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we also debated afterwards whether Hayden Christensen (the much-maligned actor who now plays Anakin Skywalker) is a "bad actor" or whether he is a good actor PLAYING a bad actor.  smile.gif

Caught this recently and felt the same way. I was annoyed at first by the dialogue in the classroom, but later softened on it, thinking the writer was presenting us with the "cheesey charm" of this character.

Overall I liked the film, but its one of those stories that you feel would have been hard to screw up because it's so interesting as it is. The 60 minutes piece did as much for me as the film.

Saarsgard is amazing, and I'll be keeping an eye out for him.

Edited by DanBuck

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VERY interesting review by Mark Steyn:

I can remember the exact moment when I stopped reading Stephen Glass. It was June 1997 . . . American magazines are notorious for their fact-checkers, but Glass’ stories are fake at a more basic level than dates, names, places: they don’t pass the smell test. Within his two-year meteoric rise and fall, certain themes recur in his oeuvre: a church for George Bush, a shrine to Alan Greenspan, a woman who worships former Presidential candidate Paul Tsongas... All false.

And yet The New Republic got suckered by them every time. You can see why in Shattered Glass, Billy Ray's biopic of the famous fabulist. The high point of Glass' life is not the published story but the editorial meeting at which he pitches his latest idea. "Where does he find these people?" marvels one adoring colleague. "Unbelievable!" says another. They’re stories about young conservative activists, Christian talk radio, areas of life his fellow journalists have little direct experience of. But, happily, Glass' too-good-to-be-true anecdotes confirm their general worldview -- young Republicans are drunken bullies, evangelicals are dopes and pushovers, etc. "You have to know who you're writing for," says Glass, and he does. Or as John Pilger remarked the other day, apropos the Mirror's fake army torture pics, "They may not be true. But what they represent is true." In other words, it's true because it fits my prejudices. Glass fit the prejudices of The New Republic, Harper's, George, Rolling Stone, and played smoothly on the reflexive condescension so much of the media have for so many of the American people.

But, of course, you can't make a film like that about American journalism. In most movies about a cocky young faker on the make -- Catch Me If You Can, The Talented Mr Ripley -- it's the phony who gets glamourised. Not here. Instead, it's the profession he has the impertinence to sully that gets imbued with a reverence that will strike any British hack as hilarious. Hayden Christensen plays Glass as a puppyish nerd in over-large specs. He appears about 25 when the picture starts and seems to lose a couple of years every ten minutes. By the end, he looks like Harry Potter all out of tricks.

But, when you're up against a sociopathic schoolboy like Glass, you need a hero. And slowly a film about Glass turns into a film about his editor, Charles Lane (Peter Sarsgaard), and his dogged determination to crack the case piece by painstaking piece. Imagine All The President's Men with Woodward investigating Bernstein and you'll get the general idea. Toward the end, there's a moment when Lane gets a vital piece of info and the final piece of the puzzle clicks into place, and you’d think you were watching Miss Marple.

The overwrought pun in the title, Shattered Glass, captures the tone of the picture. Glass has never seemed in the least bit shattered, but America's media ethics bores reckon they ought to feel shattered on his behalf. . . . Somewhere in heaven, Hecht and MacArthur, authors of The Front Page, must be laughing their heads off. Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair won't kill American journalism. But the absurd self-aggrandizement represented by this movie surely will.

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Curious. I like Steyn's comments here in general, except that when it comes to the point he evidently cares most passionately about, especially starting about midway through the penultimate paragraph, I don't seem to be on the right wavelength to fully catch his drift. I have no idea why Hecht and MacArthur are supposed to be "laughing their heads off" "somewhere in heaven" (nor why, having unofficially canonized them, Steyn felt compelled to pick out some indeteminate aspect of their whereabouts), nor what specifically he feels will be the cause of death with this movie as the murder weapon.

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Maybe the problem wasnt Hayden Christensen but maybe his director in EP 2? Im not saying the guy is Deniro, but Ive seen two movies where he's proved he can hold his own in the acting category. We can only ponder what Ep 1 and 2 would have been like if Lucas would have just produced them and left the directing to someone else.

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This more recent event seems to have a larger political bias motivating the publishing of the articles, rather than just being snowed by an ambitious writer as was the original "shattered glass" event.

It is hard not to be cynical about all publications as journalists are being shown to not to at least try to be objective in their reports. It is true than none of us are really objective, but when we ONLY see the world from our preconceived perspective, then you can hardly call it "objective reporting." Perhaps that's a thing of the past.

Denny

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Alex von Tunzelmann @ Guardian gives the film an A- for history and an A for entertainment, e.g.:

 

According to this film, Glass’s personal charm and apparent thoughtfulness towards everyone in the office does a lot to protect him from scrutiny. This characterisation is taken with impressive attention to detail from the Vanity Fair article on which Shattered Glass is based. “Among his friends, there is debate as to how much of Glass’s warmth was cultivated, but there is no doubt that it helped further his rise,” wrote Buzz Bissinger in that piece. “If there was one aspect of Glass’s personality that seemed indisputably genuine, it was this non-stop yearning to please.” The movie paints him brilliantly as borderline-weird – he alphabetises beer bottles at parties, and randomly insists he isn’t gay when that really isn’t relevant – but in a kind of blundering, endearingly dorky way that makes him seem the most unlikely person in the world to craft a massive fraud. . . .

 

Kelly is replaced as editor by Charles Lane, played by Peter Sarsgaard with fantastic subtletly – but possibly too nicely. “I certainly came off better than I really am,” Lane has said. . . .

 

As the film notes, Glass himself went on to graduate from Georgetown Law School. However, since then, he has been unsuccessful in an attempt to be certified to practice law in California. . . .

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