Shattered Glass – on DVD

Shattered Glass (2003) by Billy Ray

More than once, I stood at the vid-shop and looked at the cover of this dvd and thought: hm, this looks interesting. And I actually like most of the actors. Unfortunately they also put the fallowing words on the cover: produced by Tom Cruise. And for years, really, that was the reason for me to not watch it. It seems idiotic, maybe, he merely produced the movie, why shouldn’t it be a good movie? So, this rational side of me finally won out and I watched the movie last night.

Stephen Glass was fired from “The New Republican” in 1998 because he had fabricated facts, and actually invented whole stories while he was writing for the magazine. The movie dramatizes the discovery of his lies by his editor Charles Lane.

While the story was probably well publisized and discussed in the U.S., I am pretty certain that in Germany very few people would know about the exploits of Glass. I am not even sure the movie made it to German theaters, so I had never heard about it, and I also did not read the dvd synopsis – because I like to be surprised every once in awhile.

It was a strange story from beginning to end as Glass (Hayden Christensen) is portrayed as the hero at the beginning. Well, it may be observed that there is something fishy about him, but it is nothing substantial, while Lane (Peter Sarsgaard), though he seems nice, seems also a little incompetent – or maybe merely not as shiny as Glass.

It becomes clear soon enough that Glass is not only fishy, but that he tends to lie, that he fabricates stories, that the little gestures he pays toward his co-workers seem more of an obsession than truly just small gestures to please someone.

His whole scam is detected when a reporter, Adam Penenberg (Steve Zahn), with forbes.com, a newly-developed internet magazine, tries to verify some of the facts in Glass’s article and finds himself unable to verify any of the given facts. He calls Lane who confronts Glass. Glass tries to cover his tracks but claims that he himself is the victim, that his sources lied etc. But Lane finds out that it is really Glass who made everything up and has put an intense amount of work into covering his tracks. Game over, so to speak.

As I have said, the feeling was strange. Usually I would have welcomed the plot scheme of making the hero the villain and vice versa, only it was too clumsily done. The placement of Lane’s family (wife and baby) pointed at a sensitive family man rather than an unscrupulous careerist who would do anything for a promotion. Christensen’s character meanwhile was from the beginning depicted as somebody who was altogether too eager to please. Still, his co-workers liked him a lot. I am not really surprised, though somehow disappointed that so much female acting skill has been wasted on small roles with little character and no character-development (unless one interpret’s the hero-worship look on Chloe Sivigny’s face at the end of the movie toward Sarsgaard’s character as development). We have not only Chloe Sivigny and Melanie Lynskey (an actress that is constantly playing too small roles for so big a talent) as Glass’s co-workers who are mainly there to adore him, but also Rosario Dawson as a rather more ambitious opponent of Penenberg.

There was someting else, though, that set my sensibilities on edge. And maybe this is only about my sensibilities and not even intentionally put into the movie, maybe I am overinterpreting (but then, that is my field of study). I felt that Glass was depicted as gay which in itself is not a bad thing (having had in mind that Tom Cruise produced the movie I found it sort of peculiar; I had rather expected the film to ignore the existence of gay altogether). Glass’s early exclamation that he was annoyed by everybody assuming he was gay and some colleague giving him tongue during a conversation about… I think it was health-care, wasn’t all that annoying although one (or I) could not shake the feeling that he was rather depicted as a homosexual in denial. And a short time later Glass is seen sitting in the break room when Lane comes in and he stares straight at his jean-covered… behind. I wonder, is it just me who saw that? I don’t think so since I was actally surprised by the shot. The problem is not with Glass being depicted as a gay man (I don’t know if Glass is/was gay but I saw an interview where he actually talked of having had a girlfriend at the time and even that doesn’t have to mean anything today), the problem is with him being gepicted as a rather neurotic, lying gay man – meaning that his lying and neurosis is somehow (though subtly) linked to, what is shown as closeted, homosexuality. Again, this interpretation is fairly subjective but it is after all what I study and I am trained to see things like this. So, maybe I am right, maybe I am wrong.

On the whole, this movie is a good movie. The acting is fantastic, you are never bored, I personally felt more with Glass than the conservatively depicted Lane (especially when I later also watched the interview that was on the dvd – I actually thought the interviewer annoying). All in all, I thought it rather funny what Glass did, I cheered him on, because it is such a wonderful metaphor on truth in journalism, how it is created, who gets to tell it. I am aware that people were affected by his lies and did not think them very funny, they found them hurtful. Still, he seems to me to be rather an anti-hero, not the spiteful person the movie tries to create.

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