One of the biggest scandals in journalistic history, also known as the Stephen Glass case, has been turned into a hard-hitting blockbuster about a journalist who fabricated stories to advance his career at The New Republic. Shattered Glass (2003) focuses heavily on Glass’ interpersonal relationships with editors, fellow writers, as well as his seemingly innocent disposition. The story would be easy to sensationalize, but Billy Ray, the director, fails to capture all of the story’s potential in the film.
Hayden Christensen does an excellent job portraying Stephen Glass as a muckraker seeking to expose controversial politicians and corporations. The stories he presents are captivating to the point that his colleagues anticipate his findings at every staff meeting. He responds modestly to their enthusiasm each time, claiming that he probably wouldn’t even pursue the story even though the audience and his colleagues know he will.
It’s difficult for the viewer not to be on Glass’ side when he’s finally questioned about his journalistic integrity in “Hack Heaven.” The piece is about a teenager who hacks into a website called “Jukt Micronics.” The owners of the company are forced to give the teenager a job on the condition that he will not hack again. When Glass investigates, he earnestly asks his editor Chuck Lane, played by Peter Sarsgaard, if he has done anything wrong. Glass has a way of “killing with kindness,” emotionally manipulating the employees and audience alike so that neither can separate Glass the writer and Glass the “friend.” He relies on their sense of trust to extend in his writing, which is one of the many ways Glass publishes so many fabricated stories before he is caught.
Glass is starkly contrasted with Lane, who plays the role of an editor only concerned with the facts. Unlike his coworkers, he plays one of the few people who is not enthralled with Glass and spends most of the film subtly suspicious of Glass’ work.
The message of the movie is undoubtedly powerful; the worst mistake a journalist can make is not presenting accurate facts. Inherent to journalism is the responsibility of informing readers with truthful information. When information is compromised, the relationship with the reader is compromised. In the case of The New Republic, compromising this relationship was especially controversial, given its claim as the number one in-flight magazine to Air Force One. Glass’ articles, in both the movie and in real life, had the ability to impact the very readers that create U.S. policies, thereby affecting millions of citizens.
Though the message is important, but it could have been conveyed with more strength. The viewer is left questioning certain technical aspects of the filming, taking away from the credibility of the film and the serious message it has to offer. For example, the movie opens with Glass talking about his experience as a journalist to a class of eager students and the movie ends with Glass in the same classroom with no students, deep in thought with a melancholy expression. I started to question the structure of the plot at the end of the story, wondering whether or not he was speaking to students to begin with. Although this point is unrelated to the story, the confusing structure made me think more about the editing of the movie than its message.
The very beginning of the movie is equally problematic, with resonating overtures of orchestral music playing in the first few minutes opening scene. The music gave me the impression that the movie was going to be a typical, sappy “chick-flick” similar to a Nicholas Sparks novel. Five minutes into the movie, the soundtrack took a different turn, but it’s important for the first five minutes to captivate the viewer, so they are invested in the movie’s progress.
“Shattered Glass” seeks to remind viewers why thorough reporting is so important. Regardless of the movie’s flaws, the film does convey a strong warning to all journalists to report nothing but the truth and to all readers to accept nothing but the truth.