Shattered Glass (2003)

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Besides wanting to be a cowboy when I was young, I wanted to be a newspaper reporter. At first, a sports writer, then I somewhere along the line wanted to review movies (no surprise there!), and from there it evolved into a news reporter and journalist. In films, the newsroom always looked fascinating to me. Hustling to get the story, beating the deadline, and competitors, the speedy typing, the editor making changes and finally seeing your story in print with your byline on top. That dream faded away like many others, but my love of films with journalistic themes remained. In cinema, many great movies have been made about journalism. Sam Fuller’s Park Row is one of the best, as is Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole. There are plenty of others including All the President’s Men, Spotlight, His Girl Friday, Sweet Smell of Success, Zodiac, Absence of Malice, Deadline U.S.A., Citizen Kane, and State of Play.    There are plenty more that could be added to this list. Some of these films reflect journalism in a good light, sometimes even heroic ways  (Park Row, All The President’s Men, Spotlight, State of Play) while others hold up a mirror to the darker opportunistic side of journalism (Ace in the Hole, Sweet Smell of Success).  

Today when journalism and the news media, in general, are under attack by a President who cares nothing about the truth, we seem to have forgotten, on both sides of the political fence, that honest and free journalism is one of the most important cornerstones in our democracy. Nor should it be a grandstand for self-serving practitioners who will write whatever will advance their careers and the truth be damned. I ask where are the Edward R. Morrow’s and Walter Cronkite’s of today? Those kind of journalists seem to be a dying breed, if not already extinct.

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This brings us to Shattered Glass (2003) a sobering yet riveting look at an infamous incident in the world of journalism. Stephen Glass (Hayden Christenson) was a young and shining star at the New Republic, a pillar magazine of conservative journalism. The New Republic prided itself on the fact that it was read by the elite of Washington including those on Air Force 1. No photographs were required, it was a magazine of words and ideas. Glass was a rising star who wrote both hard-hitting and humorous entertaining pieces. He was a workaholic; Glass also contributed articles to other magazines as varied as Rolling Stone, George and Harper’s. He was well liked and admired by his young co-workers; he flirts with the women and is envied by the men. The boy has a shining future ahead of him. The New Republic staff itself is confident in their work knowing the most powerful people in Washington read their words. They feel like they are in a position where they can change the world.

shatteredGlass’ world begins to crack when a call from an online magazine journalist (Steve Zahn) suspects there are holes in one of his articles. The article was called Hack Heaven. It tells the story of a 15-year-old hacker who managed to break into a company’s computer network. The company then allegedly negotiated in hiring the teenager as a security consultant. To cover up his tracks, Glass went as far as building a website for the non-existent company. The company, Juk Micronics, had only one phone number that always was answered with a phone message.  What company has only one phone number? Glass, smoothly at first, covered his tracks but the veneer screen around him soon shows signs of cracking, and his story and his world began to crumble. His editor, Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard) who at first has full confidence in Glass begins to dig deeper. The cracks in his star writer’s story become bigger the more he investigates. It was no longer one story, but one article after another he discovered were fabricated.  More than Twenty articles in total from an output of forty-one.

In 1998, Vanity Fair magazine published an article by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Buzz Bissinger (author of the non-fiction book Friday Night Lights) on Stephen Glass’ exploits. It was this article writer/director Billy Ray used as his source material for the film. Shattered Glass is a compelling film, a morality tale, at times, gut-retching as you watch Glass dig himself deeper and deeper into a hole with no way out.

The cast is a study in ensemble acting.  Hayden Christensen, Peter Sarsgaard, Steve Zahn, Chloe Sevigny, Melanie Lynskey are all masterful. Billy Ray who was a co-writer on the 2009 film State of Play, handles the story and camera with intelligence. There is nothing showy, but it is a mesmerizing film about ethics in journalism that should be better known.

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10 comments on “Shattered Glass (2003)

  1. Count me in on this one John. I love a good journalistic story. I would add another one to your list–The Parallax View.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a troubling story. I look forward to catching this one. You wrote an excellent review.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. John Charet says:

    Great post 🙂 I have another one you should as well: Oliver Stone’s Salvador from 1986. A real shame that Stephen Glass did what he did. Nevertheless, I really feel that Hayden Christensen shined in the role and everyone were really good as well. I am glad that you love Samuel Fuller’s Park Row. I did a blog entry regarding my favorite films of Samuel Fuller a few months back and speaking of another director from that period, are you familiar with the films of Nicholas Ray? He was another master. Anyway, keep up the great work as always and have a Happy 4th of July 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • John Greco says:

      John, I have seen Salvador a while back and someday will watch it again and write about it.I am very familiar with Nick Ray, a wild Hollywood rebel and a classic filmmaker.Love his work. Will check out your list on him and Fuller.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Shattered Glass is impeccable. The only factual modulation was with regard to the side characters, the other journalists who worked with Glass, who were amalgamated and shuffled a little, because the real individuals were still young and building their careers when the film was made. Otherwise, nothing was included in the movie for which Ray could not find at least two sources. The extras are a commentary with Billy Ray and Chuck Lane, and a 60 minutes interview with Glass done a bit before the film. How open can you get with your extras? For a film that makes the importance of truth an element of suspense to rival any of Hitchcock’s MacGuffins, it’s own commitment to truthfulness is commendable, at the very least.

    Oh yeah, it’s also a great film. I saw it three times in one weekend – in the theater. It’s just riveting.

    Wonderful choice.

    Liked by 1 person

    • John Greco says:

      Thanks much for your thoughts and comments. It’s rare for a film, based on a true story, to get it, or at least most of it right. Glad to hear this. And yes, it’s a great film, one of the best on journalism.

      Like

  5. The Lady Eve says:

    If only Glass had been the only one fabricating his stories – or not vetting them thoroughly. I thought Shattered Glass was a good film, very interesting. I, too, once wanted to be a journalist – took journalism all through high school, was on the school paper and the annual staff, etc. I would never have imagined it could come to something like this. Or something like a President lacking intelligence, morals, ethics and any other even remotely admirable quality.

    Liked by 1 person

    • John Greco says:

      He does not have one admirable quality. He lacks a moral and ethical
      compass. What I can’t get over is how his followers are okay with his behavior, his lack of class and how he represents the U.S.

      Like

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