Shattered Glass

  • Anakin Avoiding the Luke Skywalker Curse
  • Hank Azaria Playing one of the Most Vile Journalists of the 90's (God Rest his Soul)
  • Chloe Sevigny- Where Have You Been?
Directed by Billy Ray (Cyrus?)
"The Clone Wars had better be good or I'm going after you and Lucas and Portman and Samuel Jackson. Well, maybe not Jackson. He could probably kick my ass."
Earnest Goes to Journalism School

I'm going to be really open about my lack of respect for journalism. As a "profession" with no rules or formal version of reprimand, I only point to myself and shimes as low bars for measurement. When the Filmsnobs receive a letter from the OFCS, the correspondence always starts out, "Dear Journalist". Did I have to take special courses in college? Did I have to make a certain score on a test? Did I have to take an oath? No, all I needed was a URL and a penchant for boob jokes to be considered in this hallowed regard. But say shimes or I write something unethical or improper. I know that's not much of a stretch, but would we be punished by a board or a court? Of course not. Journalism is about the only "profession" where this type of procedural punishment is not a consequence. I guess we could be fired but we run the site so perhaps we can't be considered "paid professionals." Using that tact, I have even greater reserve about the quality of work that is done within the regal halls of newspapers and television stations by people actaully getting paid with real money. Since Watergate and All the President's Men, there is now the concept of the celebrity journalist. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (or Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman by a more logical conclusion) stumbled into the notion that the central point of a story did not necessarily need to be the subject but the author. Since then, an outside perspective offers that the profession has made a dramatic shift from objectivity to self-posturing and grandstanding in the hope that any minute detail could unearth a secret 18-minute tape. Bernstein even commented that the post-Deep Throat era of journalism has created "reporters at a small town newspaper examining the judging results of the county fair's cattle competition in hopes of revealing scandal." It is this type of environment that could create Stephen Glass, a reporter who worked for The New Republic in the mid-nineties who was fired after it was revealed that he fabricated over half of the high-profile articles he wrote. Shattered Glass, the film that chronicles his downfall, has little interest in revealing Glass as a microcosm to the society or profession that bred and pampered him. Without looking at the larger picture, Glass fails to develop as a character study in a misguided shot at creating mystery. In the end, the film wants to dissect an amoral case in the hopes of finding morality. It's a 90-minute presentation convincing us that we really should care about the minor consequences of a lying reporter.

Shattered Glass opens with the titular character (Hayden Christensen) speaking to the high school class of a former teacher. By this point, he is 24-years old and writes for The New Republic. The film takes a good five minutes to establish that this is an IMPORTANT MAGAZINE that JOHN MCLAUGHLIN quotes on his show and is "the official in-flight magazine for Air Force One." Great. Sure. Everytime I hear about the uber-snob rag, the editors are always apologizing for publishing a story that was either (a) grossly incorrect, (b) smug, (c) condescending, or (d) all of the above. But this is not the internal logic of the film so I'll move on. Everyone on the staff- fellow writers, editors, owners - are all taken aback by Glass's charm and quick sense of humor. He's always spinning amazing stories about pot-smoking and hookers at a young Republican conference or high-tech corporations making settlements with teenage hackers. The vivid detail of the yarns makes fellow reporters story ideas about ethanol subsidies and instability in Jordan seem...well, boring. The outrageousness of these tales should act as a warning, particularly in the way that Glass never seems to have his notes in his office or the way that he always loses the phone numbers to his contacts. Some doubt is raised with the editor-in-chief Michael Kelly (Hank Azaria), but he too dismisses this behavior as the quirkiness of a great writer. The high-tech arbitration piece hits the newsstand (appropriately entitled "Hack Heaven") and a few distinguished and studious reporters at Forbes Digital (Steve Zahn and Rosario Dawson) find it odd that the names and situations of the story seem so anonymous for such a large-reaching piece. How does the movie make these two reporters distinguished and studious? By showing them unraveling the story through a Yahoo! search, that's how. Anyway, this investigation receives an amazing amount of attention from the film, detailing the events like an archeological dig. While all of this is happening, Kelly is bumped from the editor-in-chief position and replaced by Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard) who immediately begins to question Glass' methods and inspirations. As he is questioned, it is revealed that half of his stories were completely fabricated and the rest had partial fibs. As Glass begins to plunge into despair and his situation disillusions coworkers, Shattered Glass treats the situation like a four-year-old discovering that Santa Claus doesn't exist.

And perhaps I'm being cynical and should play along with the idea that there is a profession out there that should be treated with kid gloves and whose sins are washed away with the purest of soaps. But Shattered Glass does very little to establish its own case. Glass appears like an ether fog and immediately wows. While nothing is explicit in the script, Christensen does an amazing job with suggesting a sense of need and pity through line delivery and facial expressions. This is a guy who wants attention; he needs it like a drug. The type of havoc this guy creates for an entire publication and its staff seems to beg for an explanation. The script suggests that no understanding makes this so much more damning. But there are just so many gaps. A lot of people are charming, but this is not enough to make them hotshot writers by the age of 24. The secrets exist in the stories he fabricates. Director/co-writer Billy Ray takes great measure to re-create the stories as Glass tells them and then goes back to factually deconstruct through Lane's eyes. But there is no psychological deconstruction. How does someone imagine all of this and then go to great lengths to make it as real as possible? What is that process? The film suggests an itching to create a narrative structure to unravel these stories but fails to because Glass is convinced that it should function as an expose of a dark moment in ethics rather than as a study about why people would do this and how. The audience wants to see Glass enter those stories again and explain the existence of every lie, the motivation of every nuance and the anticipation of each desired result. But once the truth lifts the veil, things turn uglier as the film simply exists to elicit sorrow for Glass as he grieves and to watch the other characters react to the downfall. Perhaps the saddest victim is Chloe Sevigny, who was set up as the new indie princess after 1999's Boys Don't Cry but has since fallen into a rather shady cast of characters (re: Harmony Korine). Here she plays Caitlin Avey - a fellow journalist - who can display no emotion other than doe-eyed disappointment. This is the woman who redefined the orgasm just a few years ago now reduced to a silent gasp in the face of less-than-perfect colleagues. Sad indeed.

Perhaps most insulting to the audience is the portrayal of Kelly as a man of integrity held as prisoner to his loyalty and stubbornness. Let's just get a few things out of the way. I know Kelly was killed earlier this year when a car he was a passenger crashed in Iraq. It's sad. He had a wife and kids. But when I think of Michael Kelly, I think of a hard-core conservative who could barely hide his bias as he pretended to perpetrate a noble truth. In more bolder terms, I think he was a real prick. I started following his career in October of 1998 after he spoke at Evangel University in Springfield. Myself and Matty Patt of Springfield thought we were attending a lecture about the firsthand account of a journalist during the first Gulf War. What we got was an hour of anti-Clinton morality rhetoric with plenty of emphatic points about the weakness of the the Department of Defense. He said Clinton wasn't doing enough in Kosovo despite the President's call for NATO intervention in the face of Republican disdain. To prove his point, Kelly played an audio tape of a young girl in Bosnia being gunned down by a sniper. Exploitative? Sick? Self-exposing? Yes. Kelly proved to me then and there he was a journalist not interested in truth or understanding but as a vehicle for his own philosophy and opinions. But instead of letting it hang out and writing for The Washington Times or The Weekly Standard, Kelly attempted to paint himself as the crusading objectivist. He did this even after he personally attacked members of Clinton's staff including conference calling Sid Blumenthal and cussing him out in the ear shot of two dozen or so people. He openly vilified John McCain, Al Gore, or anyone who could have posed a threat to George W. Bush in 2000 yet hid his agenda under the pretenses of "liberal" media outlets like The Atlantic Monthly. If the filmmakers of Shattered Glass wanted to tell a story about the dark underbelly of journalism, they should have talked about Kelly and all the other journalists who became mid-level superstars in the 1990's. Surely a film about Matt Drudge, David Brock, or Kelly would be more interesting than one about a guy who faked a few stories for an overrated magazine. This truly represents that cynical image painted by Bernstein: Guys who want to BE THE STORY. Stephen Glass wanted to be the story, but he just didn't turn out to be that interesting.

Putting my feelings about journalism aside, I got a weird fuzzy feeling watching Shattered Glass. The film is set in the spring of 1998, when the biggest threat to democracy was not haywire voting machines or preemptive strikes or the USA PATRIOT Act but an intern blowing the President. People talked about dot com's and tech stocks with free abandon. A place like Digital Forbes could employ fifty or so journalists and no one seemed to balk at the idea of raising more capital to keep them high in fresh bagels. At this point in history, we can look back to something as recent as 1998 and think: Were we absolutely insane? Could that have only been five years ago when we thought that Internet start-up companies could buy ad time on the Super Bowl? My mind spun with the the contrasts to current time and date, but the film seems to breeze past the subjects with hardly a passing interest. This fantasyland bred the world where Glass could survive and thrive. This needed examining within the context of this story and it got me thinking that we need this type of examination of the 1990's in general. A lot could be learned about our country's current state of denial or about the tenuous nature of business cycles. Based on the complex layers Glass created and conveyed in his fiction, he might be perfect to be the screenwriter. But he should take some lessons of his film biography and make sure that some understanding is incorporated into the process first.

The Pitch:
1 The Mary Tyler Moore Show
1 Jayson Blair
2 Shattered Glass
See It For:
Forbes Digital checking out the amazing advances highlighted by the Filmsnobs Web Journal.