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The truth shatters

A gripping docudrama, ‘Shattered Glass’ introduces us to one of the most sought after young journalists in Washington. The year is 1998 and Stephen Glass is associate editor at The New Republic. His larger than life features, filled with vivid dialogue and detailed descriptions, appear in magazines like George, Rolling Stone and Harper’s. He flirts with his secretary, always helps his colleagues, and remembers everyone’s birthday. Despite his insecurities, Steve’s an all-round nice guy with a major talent for writing.

There’s just one problem though. It turns out that what Steve has been writing isn’t entirely true. When a journalist for the online edition of Forbes magazine has trouble verifying the facts in a Glass piece, the suspicions of The New Republic’s editor, Chuck Lane, are aroused. And so Lane begins his own investigation of the offending article.

“Hacker Heaven” describes the antics of a 15 year old hacker who breaks into the database of a major software company and posts the salaries of its executives on the firm’s website. Instead of prosecuting the teenager, the firm hired him. With Lane probing the story, Glass creates fake e-mail addresses, newsletters, business cards, voicemail messages, and even a website in an increasingly frantic scramble to cover up his fabrications.

It is this uncovering of Glass that forms the core of ‘Shattered Glass’, an intriguing, fact-based film bouyed, rather than weighed down, by its attention to detail and subjective approach. The screenplay by first-time director Billy Ray is careful not to choose sides, rather documenting the events as they happened — and leaving the audience to decide why Glass acted the way he did.

But the truth is that nobody really knows. Some of his colleagues called him a pathological liar. Others felt that he had been out of his depth. Or that he had been driven by an insatiable need for approval — from his parents and his colleagues.

Said Glass himself in a 2003 interview with 60 Minutes: “I loved the electricity of people liking my stories. I loved going to story conference meetings and telling people what my story was going to be, and seeing the room excited. I wanted every story to be a home run.”

It is this view that Ray’s film seems to favour, without condoning or excusing Glass’ actions. In fact, the young journalist, as portrayed by Hayden Christensen, ultimately comes across as something of a weakling. Stripped of his earlier swagger, a self-pitying Glass resorts to grovelling when he realises that his increasingly far-fetched lies aren’t having the desired effect on Lane. Yet Lane, essentially the story’s hero, isn’t portrayed in the most complimentary light either. Initially it is he who is regarded as a weak, uncharasmatic drone, in contrast with Glass’ over the top character. But as the plot unravels Lane’s firm belief in procedure and the truth (stoically delivered by an excellent Peter Sarsgaard) help him deal with the machinations of his magazine’s star journalist.

While ‘Shattered Glass’ might have little appeal outside the field of journalism, Ray and his actors have created a very human story driven by very real people. It shouldn’t be overlooked.

  •  This article originally appeared on iafrica.com.

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