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Photograph by Jonathan Wenk

Pitch Perfect: Young Stephen Glass (Hayden Christensen) dazzles his journalistic colleagues (Chloë Sevigny, center; and Melanie Lynskey) with another 'can't-miss' idea for a cover story in 'Shattered Glass.'

Neocon Babylon

'Shattered Glass' exposes fraud at 'The New Republic'

By Richard von Busack

A FRIEND DISMISSED Shattered Glass angrily: "Don't talk to me about the proud traditions of The New Republic magazine; it's nothing but rum, sodomy and the lash." Wait, I'm sorry, we were just about to see Master and Commander, and actually he was quoting Winston Churchill on the Royal Navy. Fortunately, Shattered Glass addresses just these lingering problems of journalistic accuracy.

The film tells the story of one Stephen Glass, an engaging (if obsequious) young writer (Hayden Christensen). In 1998, Glass was unmasked as a Pinocchio by his editor, Charles "Chuck" Lane (Peter Sarsgaard). Glass's phony articles, which numbered over 20, included a story about an imaginary Palo Alto software company called "Jukt," which was supposedly paying protection money to hackers. This easily exposed lie was uncovered by a reporter at the since defunct Forbes Online Tool website; the reporter is played by Steve Zahn, who's a delight in this uncharacteristic serious part. In flashback, Glass explains how to be a journalist to a high school class. We cross-cut to his rise as a writer for George and Atlantic Monthly, while attending law school. But mostly, Glass cooked up baloney for The New Republic, a periodical that styles itself irritatingly as "The in-flight magazine of Air Force One."

Glass was apparently not the kind of rogue who enjoyed deceit; he was more like a nervous-compulsive. "Shattered" now, is he? Glass currently works as a lawyer, and he and his pals probably enjoy some good laughs about his audacity. The movie resembles the novel Glass derived from his experiences as a "fabulist"; critic Emily Nussbaum has acidly dismissed the book's qualities as a cautionary tale: "it's like Roxie Hart warning us off jazz and liquor."

The acting is fine, though. Chloë Sevigny plays Caitlin one of his editors. She almost demolishes the kid with a look. Moreover, veteran director Ted Kotcheff, playing the loathsome publisher Marty Peretz, is like a volcano you wait to see erupt: a dictator, a bully, a comma counter. But he never goes off. In a bizarre ending, he and the staff give each other a happy round of applause for having the guts to stand up to one weedy little faker.

Produced by Tom Cruise, Shattered Glass is a warning to a generation of youth that lost its moral compass from watching Tom Cruise movies: seduced to believe that conniving is justified, as long as you can look cute and woeful in the last reel. As a journalist, I couldn't have had a better mud bath if I'd gone to Calistoga. Still, Shattered Glass tiptoes around the realities of The New Republic during these years. In fact, Glass did so well because the mag was so terribly sure of itself. Other news hounds on the Lewinsky case were larger, but none bayed as loudly The New Republic. Editor Michael Kelly (Hank Azaria) is portrayed as a martyr because he died covering the Gulf War. However, this was a war he urged on the nation. As for Peretz himself, he's such an apologist for Israeli excess he makes Ariel Sharon seem soft on Arabs. If the film seems to be strangely silent on the subject of political drift, this may account for the strange bloodlessness. On the whole, Glass' magazine seems as ideologically calm as the Weekly Reader.

Shattered Glass (PG-13; 94 min.), directed and written by Billy Ray, photographed by Mandy Walker and starring Hayden Christensen and Chloë Sevigny, opens Friday at Camera 3 in San Jose and the Century 16 in Mountain View.

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From the November 6-12, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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