Shattered Glass

Smart, absorbing drama about Stephen Glass, a 25-year-old reporter for the esteemed political news magazine The New Republic who was fired in 1998 for partially or completely fabricating 27 of the 41 stories he had written for the publication.

Hayden Christensen does an amiable job as Glass, an ingratiating nobody who deflects suspicions with self-deprecating comments like "Are you mad at me?" – cheap attempts at getting his accusers to feel sorry for him. That doesn't fly with his editor Charles Lane (Peter Sarsgaard), a little-liked writer suddenly thrust into his new position through political machinations that distance him even further from his own staff – a staff that adores Glass. Sarsgaard is nothing short of mesmerizing in a tight, grounded performance that plays off of Christensen's whimpering Glass perfectly. His character turns out to be the far more fascinating one, as well: an unpopular man trying to convince his detractors that he knows the truth.

If we never find out why Glass does what he does, it's no failure of the film's. On my first feature Foreign Correspondents, there was a similarly charming person working on the crew who also turned out to be a pathological liar. Such people are, by their own nature, inscrutable: there's simply nothing below their surface. (This movie's postscript, a blurb that reveals that Glass has since written a novel about an ambitious young journalist who invents his own stories, says more about his true narcissism than any movie ever could.) Keeping Glass opaque, if you'll pardon my pun, is a great decision, as it turns what could have been an insignificant biopic into a cracking good detective story, with Sarsgaard (and a great Steve Zahn as the reporter for a rival news publication who finally nails Glass) putting two and two together.

My issue with Shattered Glass – and it's only a big issue because the film is so good – is its own loose handling of the truth. Any film that's about fact-checking and false reporting opens itself up to similar scrutiny, but you allow for Hollywood-style little white lies like casting beautiful people as homely dorks, substituting Montreal for Washington DC, and combining or deleting real-life characters in the name of good drama. However, writer/director Ray, who provides solid dialogue and direction, avoids the big question: How did some lying little punk manage to snow one of the nation's top news publications for so long?

Since all this actually happened in real life, you can't call it a plot hole. But Ray cheats a little: The film opens with the disclaimer that the "median age" of The New Republic's editorial staff was 26 (i.e. young and dumb, easily misled). Not average, median. The nearly century-old New Republic, of course, employs plenty of seasoned vets who were doubtlessly unimpressed by the squirrely young hotshot. This muddies the story, though, so Ray films the staff meetings in such a way that you only see the young writers – the ones who all love Glass. Even so, in hindsight they seem incredibly naive for professional journalists. But then, The New Republic's thousands of readers were equally so. That nobody cared enough to question such easy-to-debunk tall tales until Glass had published over two dozen of them is even more troubling than the fact that creeps like him exist in the first place.