The 2003 film Shattered Glass tells the true story of Stephen Glass, a young journalist who rose to fame at The New Republic magazine in the late 1990s for his colorful feature stories, only to have his career come crashing down when his extensive fabrications and falsifications were exposed. Directed by Billy Ray and featuring Hayden Christensen as Stephen Glass, the film provides a fascinating character study of ambition, deception and ethics in journalism.
The movie opens with Glass frantically striving to stave off an investigation into his stories by editors at The New Republic, including editor-in-chief Marty Peretz (Ted Kotcheff). We then flash back to see Glass as a staff writer, churning out attention-grabbing articles that often featured alleged interviews with colorful characters which were entirely made up. Despite some early warnings from colleagues like reporter Charles Lane (Peter Sarsgaard) that some of Glass’s stories didn’t check out, Glass rises to become an associate editor.
However, the fabrications become harder to ignore as Lane investigates a bizarre hacking convention story that appears completely fabricated. This sparks a dramatic unravelling of Glass’s web of lies. The once-lauded writer is forced to defend his work to his incredulous colleagues in an excruciating scene that demonstrates just how fully Glass had deceived his co-workers. In the end, over two-thirds of Glass’s stories turn out to be wholly or partially fabricated.
Christensen delivers a stellar performance as the deeply flawed yet oddly sympathetic Glass, capturing the writer’s ambition, insecurity and increasing desperation as his world collapses. We see Glass feverishly typing away on stories late into the night, cultivating an image as a journalistic wunderkind. Yet beneath his drive lurks a profound desire for approval and acclaim. As the movie shows, Glass invents sources and situations not just to make his writing more exciting, but also to bolster his reputation at the magazine. He’s crushed when the adulation fades.
While a known fabricator may seem like an unappealing protagonist, Christensen brings nuance and humanity to Glass. We glimpse his experiences being bullied as a child and sense his intense need to be recognized as talented. This doesn’t excuse his lies, but adds insight into his possible motivations. Meanwhile, Sarsgaard is excellent as the skeptical yet conflicted Lane, the journalist who hesitates to accuse his colleague of outright deception. The talented supporting cast includes Chloë Sevigny as Glass’s trusting editor as well as Melanie Lynskey and Steve Zahn as reporters dubious of Glass’s stories.
Director Billy Ray crafts the film almost like a thriller, building tension as Glass’s web of lies unravels. The pacing and editing heightens the drama. While most of the film takes place in the offices of The New Republic, it’s consistently engrossing. Ray also adds stylish fantasy dream sequences to depict some of Glass’s more outlandish invented stories. These fabulist scenes with unicorns and hackers add visual flair while underscoring just how far Glass stretched the truth.
In exploring the sensational rise and fall of Stephen Glass, Shattered Glass delves into fascinating questions about ethics, deception and ambition in the high-pressure world of journalism. It’s a nuanced film that doesn’t shy away from depicting Glass’s wrongdoing, yet also fleshes out his humanity. With captivating performances and direction, Shattered Glass captures an unbelievable real-life drama while also provoking important conversations about truth in media. Though Glass’s legacy is one of disgrace, this complex film gives us insight into how a promising young journalist could stray so far while still remaining recognizably human.