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Shattered Glass (12A)

Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary by the director and New Republic editor Chuck Lane; 60 Minutes interview with Stephen Glass.

BY THE mid-Nineties, talented young journalist, Stephen Glass, had the world at his feet.

Having landed a job as staff writer on the highly-respected New Republic magazine (the only publication considered to be required reading on Air Force One), he also was one of the most sought-after scribes in Washington, serving as a freelance feature writer for publications such as Rolling Stone, Harper’s and George.

But his career had come crashing to a spectacular halt by 1998, when it was revealed that the majority of his articles had been either wholly or partially fabricated. The ensuing investigation called the very nature of journalism and trust into question.

Shattered Glass, the film behind this remarkable true story, is a compelling and insightful look into the man behind the stories, as well as the journalists who exposed them, and the impact it had on the profession.

It serves as both an intriguing expose of the media world at that time, and as a gripping character study of both the calculated and ruthless psychology of Glass, and the humane approach of his editor, Charles Lane, who risked the wrath of his colleagues to investigate the full extent of the deceit.

And it has to rate as one of the most honest portrayals of a difficult profession to date, placing it on a par with timeless classics such as All The President’s Men (which it references) and, more recently, The Insider.

When Glass first appears on-screen, he comes across as a wide-eyed recruit, extolling the virtues of his profession with an unassuming humility that has helped him climb to the top.

A favourite among colleagues, who regularly seek his advice, Glass possesses the knack for getting the colourful stories - whether they be about drunken young Republicans behaving badly, in a hotel, during a convention, or a computer hacker, whose ability to play havoc with multi-million corporations prompts a software giant to offer him a lucrative job.

As depicted by Star Wars actor, Hayden Christensen, Glass is an outwardly humble team-player, whose appetite for success masks a calculated and compulsive liar, willing to go to extreme lengths to cover his own tracks, including winning the support of the news-room against the office hierarchy.

Aware of the need to pacify the magazine’s unscrupulous fact-checkers, Glass would create false notes in his notebooks for starters, and then, when called into question, presented fake phone numbers, contacts and even websites as reference points for his stories.

In the case of the hacker story, which proved his downfall, he repeatedly sent his editor, and the Forbes Digital Tool journalist who investigated his story (played by Steve Zahn), on wild goose chases, in the hope of buying himself more time to cover up his deception.

Christensen does a remarkable job of presenting the cold-hearted desire of Glass without ever coming across as too showy, presenting a figure who became seduced by his own celebrity, to the extent that he was willing to drag the reputation of his profession through the moral mire with him.

Of equal merit, however, is Peter Sarsgaard’s depiction of Charles Lane (now a writer for The Washington Post), whose own, unstinting dedication to journalism compelled him to uncover the extent of Glass’ betrayal, once the truth about the hacker article had come out.

It is his performance which lends the film its deep moral core, and which even serves as an inspiration to anyone considering media as a profession.

Writer-director, Billy Ray, also deserves credit for keeping things suitably taut, for refusing to drag things out, and for playing to the strengths of his talented ensemble, with Zahn and Hank Azaria also standing out.

The film never becomes preachy or overly sentimental and refrains from employing too much artistic licence, a ploy which merely strengthens the overall impact of proceedings, and which makes it an unmissable experience.

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