(Originally posted on 11/30/03)
As a student who's spent the last three months learning about journalistic ethics at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, I had a special interest in catching Shattered Glass, the story of disgraced writer Stephen Glass. In 1998, Glass, a suave, imminently personable star reporter for The New Republic ("The in-flight magazine of Air Force One!") was discovered to have fabricated 27 of the 41 stories he had written for the publication, and what's amazing is how thrilling -- if strikingly discomfiting -- screenwriter Billy Ray's directorial debut (based on a Vanity Fair article by Buzz Bissinger) is. Because the audience knows going in that Glass, who was eventually discovered as a fraud by reporters at Forbes Digital Online, is a conniving liar, Ray stages the film not as a mystery but as a case study in all-consuming denial and professional and psychological self-destruction. Glass (Star Wars' Hayden Christiansen, exuding repulsive arrogance) is portrayed as a chronic flatterer with rampant insecurities, and his childish retorts to his boss' pointed questions ("Are you mad at me?") reveal his profoundly arrogant belief that his superficial charm and likeability could conceal his morally bankrupt behavior. A flimsy framing device in which Glass lectures a high school class is both distracting and unnecessary, since it merely restates the fact that Glass' predilection for fictional storytelling ultimately overwhelmed his grasp on reality, and the film's predictability intermittently sabotages the film's tension. Still, Peter Sarsgaard's performance as the magazine's editor Chuck Lane is one of the year's finest, a perfectly calibrated rendering of investigative suspicion, staunch courage and moral clarity in the face of dislike and distrust from his embittered colleagues. Sarsgaard makes Lane a hero not by empowering him with noble righteousness, but by showing him to be merely an inquisitive journalist determined to pursue the truth despite the possibly disgraceful consequences. His Lane is a powerhouse illustration of a journalist following his best instincts, and a welcome counterbalance to the shameful Stephen Glasses and David Blairs of the world who have helped further sully the profession's already-shaky reputation.