Ambition, lies, and (good) fake photos

first_imgDon’t believe everything you read in the papers, the old adage goes. Or, if it appeared in the hugely influential American politics mag The New Republic in the late 1990s and carried the by-line Stephen Glass, don’t believe anything you read. At all. Shattered Glass tells the story of real-life hotshot hack Glass (Hayden Christensen), who was fired from the magazine for making up 27 of the 41 ‘exclusive’ stories he wrote, including, crucially, an account of ambitious internet hackers which was picked up by Forbes online and exposed as being a tissue of falsehoods. The bulk of the story is a quietly gripping thriller, as the net tightens around Glass and his efforts to save his skin get more desperate. Billy Ray’s film effectively captures the atmosphere of paranoia and professional jealousy that pervades such publications, and includes some impressive performances. Peter Sarsgaard has received the lion’s share of critics’ praise, for his reinedin portrayal of Glass’s gruff editor Charles Lane. But it is Hayden Christensen, released from the role of Anakin Skywalker who surprises, displaying an acting talent hitherto unseen. Deliciously charming or incredibly irritating, depending on your point of view, he is always ready with smooth-tongued flattery, eyes innocently beaming behind his spectacles. His exposure offers punters the pleasure of seeing the slimy sycophant who is constantly making coffee and bringing the boss bagels finally getting his comeuppance. Ray’s portrayal of the group dynamics of the small, self-regarding magazine is the great strength of the film. The abuse of trust and the ease with which people will let themselves be deceived indicate the pressure on writers in a highly competitive world to make their work more attractive and entertaining, even if this involves playing around with the truth. What’s missing is any psychological insight into Glass’s fabulism. Why did he do it? Nobody seems to know, least of all Glass. Employing a device used in numerous recent films, the director mixes day-to-day reality with Glass’s fantasies in a manner both amusing and disturbing. But we are given no insight into how far Glass himself believes this fantasy: is Glass a slicker-than-youraverage con-man, a less charming version of Leonardo di Caprio’s desperate people pleaser? Or is he a deeply disturbed young man who verges on being a sociopath? There are odd paradoxes in the liberties apparently taken in telling a ‘true’ story about a journalist fired for taking liberties with the truth, and for the most part Ray simply sidesteps the whole issue of fiction versus fact by refusing to speculate on Glass’ motivation. In this respect, Shattered Glass is dangerously similar to its own protagonist – too slick for its own good. With Piers Morgan still reeling from multiple counts of false reporting, Billy Ray’s sharp, subtle account of renegade reporter Stephen Glass seems timely.ARCHIVE: 4th week TT 2004last_img read more