Click here 3 and a half stars

The man
in the
broken mirror

Hayden Christensen

The true story of a journalist who didn't let facts
get in the way of flashy stories — and got caught


"Shattered Glass"

Reviewed by Tom Mangan

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"Shattered Glass" can't tell us what Stephen Glass was thinking when he did the unthinkable.

Bily Ray, Hank Azaria
Billy Ray, Hank Azaria

Dawson, Anvar, Zahn
Rosario Dawson,
Cas Anvar, Steve Zahn
Glass was a hotshot reporter for The New Republic whose career flamed out in 1998 after it became obvious he'd made up one of the sexier stories he'd written for the magazine. Writer/director Billy Ray's new film doesn't shed much light on Glass's motivation — sure, he was ambitious, ingratiating, neurotic, manipulative and self-destructive, but the news biz is full of people like that who don't betray everything for which the profession stands.

Maybe Glass's motives can't be known. But the answers to the two next-most pressing questions — how Glass got away with it, and how he was busted — are available, and they are the glue holding the movie together. The first answer exposes how laughably easy it is for liars to roam free among journalists, but the second shows how hard it is to keep the lie alive when a reporter becomes determined to expose it. Think "CSI: Newsroom."

Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker in "Star Wars" episodes II and III) plays Glass as a smarmy guy who hands out far too many compliments and who seems just a bit too modest and apologetic. We know he's the villain, so we figure this is just part of his scam. His co-workers — notably the gorgeous editor played by ChloŽ Sevigny — fall for his charms because, well, everybody loves a star. Whatever his foibles, he's one whale of a storyteller.

As the story develops it becomes clear just how well Ray knows his material. The magazine's top editor (Ted Kotcheff as Marty Peretz) orders all his scribes (median age 26) to go through an entire issue and circle every comma with a red pen. See, he thinks they're clueless about comma usage. Just the kind of idiot edict we've all seen countless times in journalism. Then the newsroom's second in command — the beloved and respected Michael Kelly (Hank Azaria) — tells Peretz he'd rather quit than force these inane exercises on his people.

It's painful to watch the scenes with Kelly, who died in Iraq last spring while trying to cover the war for The Atlantic. He's portrayed as a hero, a real editor's editor, and the notion that he got killed on the trail of a story makes it seem just a bit too real.

The too-realness continues when Kelly gets fired after one too many run-ins with Peretz, who moves Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard, who co-starred with Sevigny in "Boys Don't Cry") into the editor's chair. It gets worse because the staff is clueless to Glass's villainy. They take Glass' side when Lane starts putting the heat on, and make it all that much harder for Lane to put an end to Glass' misadventures. Their willingness to believe the best about a co-worker — while reflexively thinking the worst of everybody else, including their boss — illustrates the ecosystem in which Glass thrived. It's scary, because it's just like every newsroom in which I've worked.

Unfortunately for Glass, there's another newsroom mainstay here: the reporter who can't turn loose of a great story. Adam Penenberg (Steve Zahn) is a reporter for Forbes Digital whose editor drags him into the office and asks him why Glass has scooped him in an article about a canny teenage computer hacker. Penenberg shrugs, heads back to his desk and starts nosing around. In a great scene that could be a seminar at an Investigative Reporters and Editors conference, he tells his editor about all the sources he's checked (dozens), and how Glass's story doesn't check out.

In another telling moment, a female coworker helping Penenberg research the story begs for a shared byline. He refuses. No surprise there.

At this point Penenberg and his pals at Forbes Digital have Glass cold. But he refuses to abandon his lie and goes to idiot lengths trying to keep Lane at bay. Then he goes to venal lengths telling his friends at the magazine that Lane is out to get him. We know how it ends up, with Glass out of a job and everybody else wondering what hit them.

If ever a movie needed a Hollywood ending, "Shattered Glass" is it. The only shame is that this one didn't have to be made up.

AT HOME OR AT A THEATER?

"Shattered Glass" is in limited release so you may not find it in a local theater, but fear not; it'll translate wonderfully to the small screen, so keep an eye out for its release on video or DVD.

See cast, credit and other details about "Shattered Glass" at Internet Movie Data Base.