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Shattered Glass Review

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Star journalist Steven Glass seems to have it all — at 24 he is the youngest writer on top political magazine The New Republic. But when a young internet journalist challenges a story he has written, his web of lies and fabrications is revealed and his ca

★★★★

Don't believe everything you read in the papers, the old adage goes. Or, if it appeared in hawkish Washington-based politics rag The New Republic in the late 1990s and carried the by-line Stephen Glass, don’t believe anything you read. At all.

Glass — an absurdly young, preppy-ish star reporter whose career had taken him to the heights of American magazine journalism via the likes of Rolling Stone and George — was busted in 1998 for having made up a fair proportion of his scoops, which included, crucially, an account of ambitious internet hackers which was picked up by Forbes online and exposed as being a tissue of falsehoods.

In America, Shattered Glass had the good fortune of being released during the fallout from the Jayson Blair affair at The New York Times, an almost identically played-out and equally amusing media imbroglio in which yet another ‘star’ reporter was brought down by the now familiar sneaky trick of someone checking his stories. Both it and the Glass scandal provoked agonised soul searching, both on the part of editors and appalled readers.

In this country — where journalists have, with some justification, always been viewed as one step below krill in the professional food chain — this efficient, entertaining recounting of the story plays more like an exquisitely satisfying office drama than a shock exposé, offering punters the pleasure of witnessing that wheedling workplace lickspittle who is constantly making coffee and bringing the boss bagels finally getting his comeuppance.

Told through a flashback structure, writer/debut director Billy Ray (screenwriter of Volcano and Hart’s War) tells the tale with economy and some style, aided by stand-out performances by Steve Zahn as the internet hack who begins to unravel the lies, and Peter Sarsgaard as the unpopular new editor who finds himself having to admit that “the in-flight magazine of Air Force 1” is a load of porkies.

Equally, the friction that existed — and exists — between internet hacks and their print colleagues is nicely charted.

Most surprising of all is Hayden Christensen; here thankfully released from the Anakin straitjacket, he exhibits something he barely touched on during his time with a lightsaber: acting talent. His hovering neediness, simpering false humility (“It’s silly, I know, I probably won’t finish it,” he says after yet another stellar article pitch) and faux boyish vulnerability are deliciously realised.

He peers owlishly from behind his oversized spectacles as he wheedles help or minor favours out of colleagues — mostly junior staff members or frumpy receptionists — with gifts, flattery and a cutesy, childlike helplessness, throughout sporting a glisten of sweat on his betraying upper lip.

If Christensen’s performance is immediate and engaging, Glass, nevertheless, remains frustratingly enigmatic and just out of reach.

There are, of course, odd paradoxes in the liberties apparently taken in telling a ‘true’ story about a journalist fired for taking liberties with the truth, but for the most part Ray simply sidesteps the whole issue of fiction versus fact by refusing to speculate on Glass’ motivation, as if adding psychological depth to his leading character would be resorting to Glass’ own level. (Glass himself claims not to know what motivated him.)

The question of why a talented writer would waste so much energy dissembling when he is obviously capable of succeeding in actually doing the job is not addressed by the film, nor raised by any of the supporting characters.

For those who like their cautionary tales to come with a neat moral attached, this logical lacuna might threaten your enjoyment of a drama that remains tense to the final frame. But by sticking doggedly to the facts, Ray ensures that the true story behind this true story can be debated long after the credits roll.

Although you are likely to emerge with as many questions as answers, this gripping, claustrophobic drama should serve as an effective antidote to a month of SFX spectacle, while the outstanding performances of Christensen, Zahn and Sarsgaard deserve to be seen by blockbuster-sized audiences.