Friday, June 10, 2005

Shattered Glass (2003)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

Recent outing of Mark Felt as Deep Throat brought some sort of closure to Watergate scandal. But the scandal had already died, simply by losing every bit of relevancy to today’s world. The real nail to the coffin was the end of the myths Watergate created – myths embodied in Alan J. Pakula’s ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN. Generations were being told the story about two intrepid reporters who uncovered the dangerous conspiracy, saved the democracy and established the media as the most effective check on every government. But this myth began to crumble long time ago, only to be completely wrecked in November 2004. Not only the power of media failed to have its desired impact at the polls, but one of the most decisive events of the campaigns – leaking the fake memos – showed the media being as arrogant and ultimately corrupt as the Presidents they were supposed to bring down. The latest scandal was, however, just one of many. Similar events happened before and one of them is a subject of SHATTERED GLASS, 2003 drama written and directed by Billy Ray.

The plot begins in 1995 in the editorial offices of “New Republic”, one of America’s most respected and influential weekly magazines. Stephen Glass (played by Hayden Christensen) is a young journalist who quickly becomes one of the most popular members of staff. This is due to his charming personality and due to the exciting and saucy articles he writes. Glass quickly becomes magazine’s star and because of that editor Michael Kelly (played by Hank Azaria) chooses to ignore certain questionable details in one of his stories. In 1998 everything changes after Glass’ article about teenage hacker being hired as security specialist for a software company. The article brings attention of Adam Penenberg (played by Steve Zahn), investigative journalist for “Forbes Digital”. When Penenberg’s attempts to find any confirmation for the claims made in the article fail, he concludes that the story is bogus and confronts “New Republic” with its findings. New editor of “New Republic” is unpopular Chuck Lane (played by Peter Saarsgard), a former colleague of Glass. At first reluctant to go against the magazine’s star and editorial staff’s darling, he starts investigation of his own, while Glass desperately tries to prove that he didn’t make up the story.

It isn’t that surprising that SHATTERED GLASS was made in the realm of American independent cinema. It deals with some serious issues in a very serious manner and, what it is even more important, it shatters the illusion – the very core of the business mainstream Hollywood is based on. The film’s pace is excellent, direction is solid, as well as dialogues. The only little bit of criticism could be found in the framing device – fantasy scene during which Glass, as a now highly member of journalistic aristocracy, gives lecture to awestruck high school students. The scene gives too much foreshadowing and the revelations in the film have less impact because of that.

The acting is also very good. Role of Glass is so far the best in Christensen’s career – he is much more convincing in the role of real-life pathetic loser than tragic hero of Lucas’ fictional universe. Peter Saarsgard as troubled editor is much more effective, while Zahn gives uncharacteristically subdued, yet adequate performance as Glass’ nemesis. Other actors are also fine, although their roles – like Glass’ office cheerleaders played by Chloe Savigny and Melanie Lynskey – are there more in order to provide some big names on posters rather than serving dramatic purpose.

Some commentators criticised SHATTERED GLASS for its alleged lack of objectivity and the fact that Chuck Lane served as film’s advisor. But the film can clearly be seen as an explicit criticism of the whole journalistic establishment to whom Lane belongs. The self-righteous guardians of liberal democracy and public interest were allowed themselves to be duped by not particularly distinguished individual, simply in order to maintain the illusion of the professional integrity. By having few Monicagate references, creator of SHATTERED GLASS suggests that such self-deluding mindset can flourish even in utopian times of peace and economic progress; just as Clinton allowed himself to be tarnished because of the personal arrogance, so did American media. And in a way, the affair behind this film was just one crack in the construction that would collapse on September 11th 2001. If Billy Ray tried to explore that angle, SHATTERED GLASS could have been much better. But even in its present form this film deserves to be recommended as cautionary tale for future generations.

RATING: 6/10 (++)


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