Stop the presses! This blog is part of the Journalism in Classic Film Blogathon, co-hosted by Lindsay’s Movie Musings and Comet Over Hollywood, from September 21st through September 22nd!
Based on journalist H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger’s Vanity Fair article, and produced for the big screen in 2003 by Tom Cruise (yes, that Tom Cruise) and Paula Wagner, the docudrama Shattered Glass tells the true rise-and-fall story of young journalist Stephen Glass, in a compelling performance by Hayden Christensen (from Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones; Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith). Steve, as most of his colleagues called him, rose to journalistic fame at The New Republic Magazine (TNR for short), yet he’s still humble and modest enough to take the time to be a special guest in his former high school in Highland Park, Illinois (played by Toronto), talking to a class of teenagers eager to hear the secret of Steve’s success:
“There are so many showoffs in journalism, so many braggarts and jerks. They’re always selling, always working the room, always trying to look hotter than they actually are. The good news is reporters like that make it easy to distinguish yourself. If you’re even a little bit humble, a little self-effacing or solicitous, you stand out. So you bring a co-worker lunch if he’s buried under a deadline. You remember birthdays. It’s true, journalism is hard work. Everybody’s under pressure, everybody’s grinding to get the issue out, nobody’s getting any sleep—but you are allowed to smile every once in a while. I mean, even Woodward and Bernstein went out for a burger now and then, and they won a Pulitzer.”
|Everybody dance! It's The Recreation of Ian Restil!
As of 1998 in the film, TNR hadn’t updated its all-text, no-pictures format in decades. Writer Charles “Chuck” Lane (Peter Sarsgaard from The Skeleton Key; Kinsey; Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine) figures if it isn’t broken, it doesn’t need fixing:
Chuck: “If they want photographs, they can buy Newsweek.”
Lewis Estridge (Marc Blum from Desperately Seeking Susan; Crocodile Dundee; The Presidio) “They do buy Newsweek. And Time. And U.S News & World Report. Our losses are a joke.”
|"Ah, my New Republic, how they love me!" Steve basks in his clippings!
|Ian Restil and his entourage are down to earth, even if his mom was in TV's Alien Nation!
|Steve secures Amy Brand's loyalty
|Never a true, er, dull moment at TNR's bullpen!
|Who IS this Ian Restil kid? Forbes' roving reporter Adam Penenberg
is determined to catch this phantom menace!
"It's 2 a.m. in the morning, Steve! Do you know where our child is? Trying to sleep! Get a life, dude!"
|Just the fact-checkers, ma'am!
Steve’s profiles have more colorful, memorable people than there are stars in the heavens! Then comes Steve’s biggest score yet: “Hack Heaven,” the story of one Ian Restil (Owen Roth, a.k.a. Rotharmel), a teenage hacker who did such a great job torching the software company Jukt Micronics, they hired him, complete with perks ranging from rare comics to sports cars to girlie magazines! When “Hack Heaven” goes live, Adam Penenberg (Steve Zahn from Out of Sight; That Thing You Do!; You’ve Got Mail; the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies) gets something of a spanking from his boss, Kambiz Foroohar (Cas Anvar from Argo; The Terminal; Source Code) when TNR scoops Forbes! And so the story starts unraveling! By the way, if you have fond memories of the Alien Nation film and TV series, don't blink or you'll miss Michele Scarabelli,who, you'll see, also turns out to be a figment of Stephen Glass's journalistic imagination!
Chuck seems to be the only person at TNR who doesn’t fawn all over Steve! Maybe that’s why Steve often gets his nose out of joint when Chuck’s around, though there seems to be no reason to be. Like a kid, Steve will do anything to get attention. Considering Steve is writing for other political magazines, too, it seems he’ll have quite a career ahead of him, especially with a great editor like TNR’s Michael Kelly (Hank Azaria from The Birdcage; Grosse Point Blank; TV’s The Simpsons) to support Steve and the rest of the staff. Sure, Steve isn’t perfect: he was briefly in hot water when his article “Spring Breakdown,” about the Young Republicans’ drunken antics at the CPAC conference, seemed to be just an innocent error regarding the hotel’s minibars. Luckily, Michael backed Steve up; what a guy! Whatever Steve’s emotional issues, he sure knew how to write fascinating and colorful articles, like the one inspired by the Evander Holyfield fight. Steve describes calling a Bible-Belt radio station, claiming to be an expert on “human-on-human biting,” keeping callers rapt and entertained for hours!
But all is not bliss at TNR. Michael and head honcho Marty Peretz (played by director Ted Kotcheff, on the other side of the camera this time. He’s best known here at Team Bartilucci HQ as the director of Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?), who’s equally strong-willed, all too often end up butting heads with each other. Sadly, Michael is eventually given his walking papers, and Marty crowns Chuck as Editor. Chuck isn’t too thrilled to get the Editor gig, since he feels he hasn’t really earned it, especially with his colleagues being resentful about the overall situation. On top of that, Chuck’s new baby is under the weather; as a mom, I can totally sympathize with Chuck and his wife Catarina (Simone-Élise Girard from Carny; Eraser; TV’s E.R.)!
Workplace drama aside, Steve sure seems to have a knack for this kind of reporting; as his colleague David Bach (Chad Donella from Final Destination; The Long Kiss Goodnight; TV’s Flashpoint) says in amazement, “Where does he find these people?” Could it be that the subjects of Steve’s articles are too good to be true? Nah, not a sweet, sensitive guy like Steve, surely? After all, he goes out of his way to assist his TNR colleagues, helping with everything from colleagues under deadline pressure, to suggesting cosmetics and trinkets for baby showers, courtesy of kind-hearted receptionist Gloria (Linda E. Smith from The Aviator; Taken; The Punisher). Indeed, Steve is helpful almost to the point of creepiness. For instance, Steve throws a party at his pad with friends and writers from other notable magazines—all while he works the room in his boyish, passive-aggressive way. While getting refreshments, Steve’s colleague Amy Brand (Team Bartilucci fave Melanie Lynskey from Heavenly Creatures; The Informant!; The Perks of Being a Wallflower; TV’s Two and a Half Men and The L Word) discovers Steve had gone way out of his way to get cold soda on ice for Amy, mentioning he’d remembered her mentioning it—a couple of years ago! Oh, and the beverages are in alphabetical order. If the TNR gig eventually went south, maybe the meticulous Steve could’ve gotten a gig working for Martha Stewart!
The subjects of Steve’s articles have more colorful, memorable people than stars in the heavens! And yet, Steve can also come across as dreadfully insecure, like when colleague Caitlin Avey (Chloë Sevigny, Oscar nominee for Boys Don’t Cry and American Psycho; TV’s Big Love, and Portlandia) takes Steve to task when she notices Steve is applying to college. Apparently, despite his success at TNR, Steve is still under his family’s thumb:
Steve: “I told you, it’s my parents, OK? They never shut up about it. If I don’t go, they won’t let me be a journalist anymore.”
Caitlin: “’Let you?’ You’re 24 years old, Stephen.”
Steve: “You don’t know how things go where I grew up, Caitlin, OK? There are rules there. If you’re not a doctor or a lawyer, you keep your curtains closed.”
Apparently Steve’s parents didn’t think “The in-flight magazine of Air Force One” was good enough for Mommy and Daddy! Steve’s insecurity is both poignant and maddening. Too bad; perhaps he’d have had the courage to man up and stand up to his parents, instead of letting down the colleagues who believed in him. When Steve is in his reporter element, you can see how, bit by bit, he becomes more comfortable in-charge, confident—too much so, perhaps?
Steve eventually writes 41 memorable articles for TNR, and his future looks bright. Then comes Steve’s biggest score yet: “Hack Heaven,” the story of Ian Restil (Owen Roth, a.k.a. Rotharmel), a teenage hacker who torched the heck out of a big software company, Jukt Micronics, boasting, “The Big Bad Bionic Boy Has Been Here, Baby!” According to roving reporter Steve, Ian’s antics resulted in Jukt hiring Ian (if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em), complete with perks ranging from rare comics to sports cars to girlie magazines, not to mention driving legislators crazy: “Turns out there are 21 states considering versions of a law called The Uniform Security Act, which would criminalize hackers and the companies they’ve torched.” What a scoop, and what fun Steve has in his triumph, jumping on the table himself as Steve channels Ian: “I want a Miata! I want my Playboys! I wanna go to Disney World!” The usually quiet Steve shakes his moneymaker at the TNR meeting, shouting “Show me the money!” “Hack Heaven” was Steve’s best article to date—and the one that brought about his downfall.
While “Hack Heaven” gets showered with accolades, over at New York City’s Forbes Digital Tool, writer Adam Penenberg (Steve Zahn from Out of Sight; That Thing You Do!; You’ve Got Mail; the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies) finds himself getting a spanking (figuratively speaking, natch!) from his boss, Kambiz Foroohar (Cas Anvar from Argo; The Terminal; Source Code) when TNR scoops Forbes! Pooling their resources to see what’s up, Chuck and Steve get together with Adam, Kambiz and their Forbes Digital Tool colleague Andy Fox (Rosario Dawson from Sin City; Death-Proof; Rent), and start investigating. Nobody can locate any of the people in Steve’s article anywhere! When the Forbes folks try to get in touch, they discover Steve’s allegedly high-powered agents and other sources only have one land line. When Steve produces a rather wan, lackluster business card for the agent ID’d as “Jim Ghort,” it’s clear to our protagonists that Steve’s been scrambling to cover himself; after all, it’s strange and amateurish to have software companies where only AOL members could access it. Ah, how quaint this new technology was back in 1998! (Heck, I’m still trying to get the hang of it here in 2013! Thank goodness my sweet hubby is a computer programmer!) As Adam puts it:“This guy is toast.”
Giving Steve every chance, Chuck offers to help him find the locations of the hacker conference in Bethesda, MD. After all, this young man is really just a troubled kid, and anyone can get snowed by a source. But when Chuck and Steve hit Bethesda, things go from bad to worse. They discover the supposedly huge hacker conference in the article was just a tiny reception desk only open on Sundays. The restaurant where Ian Restil and his entourage supposedly dined wasn’t even open at that time! And it doesn’t help that Steve blows up at Chuck: “You’re supposed to support me! I feel really attacked!” Steve trips himself with one lie after another, displaying his true weasel colors! Chuck’s patience is wearing wafer-thin; I don’t blame him! Even Chuck finally loses his cool (so did I, on Chuck’s behalf!) when Steve tells Chuck, “If you want me to say I made it up, I will. If that’ll help you, I’ll say it.” Chuck realizes Steve is trying to make him look like the bad guy! Talk about chutzpah!
Writer/director Billy Ray (The Hunger Games; State of Play; Flightplan) portrays the characters with both humor and rueful sympathy. I like the irony of Steve being so meticulous with facts and figures—just not where they counted! Notice how, bit by bit, Steve gets more bold and confident; maybe Steve’s becoming a bit too confident, until the Forbes folks discover the “Hack Heaven” inconsistencies, smelling a rat—or rather, a weasel—as they untangle Steve’s web of fiction masquerading as fact.
My husband Vinnie hated sneaky Stephen Glass even more than I did, but then, Vin can't stand Hayden Christensen in general; he felt Christensen came off whiny in both his Star Wars movies and Shattered Glass. For all we know, Christensen might be a totally nice guy in real life, but he sure was a convincing conniver in the film, so kudos to Christenson, as well as writer/director Billy Ray (The Hunger Games; State of Play; Flightplan)!
Between Star Wars movies (Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones; Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith ), Hayden Christensen did a fine job of playing Stephen Glass, the complicated real-life character who turned out to be a weasel-in-sheep's-clothing. As one of TNR’s young journalists, Steve’s star was rising, and soon hot magazines including George and Rolling Stone wrote for him as well, among other hot, smart publications in the 1990s… until it was discovered that Glass had made up many of the people and events portrayed in his articles our of whole cloth, thanks to a loophole in TNR’s fact-checking system that allowed coverage corroborated by the reporter himself. In addition, TNR didn't use photos in its articles then, making it far easier for the wily Mr. Glass to create characters from whole cloth. Hayden Christensen often comes across as a whiner in his film roles even when he's playing a good guy, so in my opinion, he was perfect casting as Stephen Glass, a young man so adept at manipulating, lying, and making people feel sorry for him that I felt like smacking him even before his true colors became clear to the increasingly frustrated, outraged Chuck. Sarsgaard's slow burns in his scenes with Christensen are worth the price of admission, especially in scenes where Steve (and his accomplice brother in Palo Alto) pester Chuck at home when he's trying to have time with his wife and sick baby. The little tyke might have only had teething issues, but as a mom, I’ve been there and can sympathize, plus Chuck already has his hands full at TNR’s hectic pace. Hey, Steve, get off the phone already—some of us have busy real lives to attend to!
I almost felt sorry for Steve during the Bethesda fact-checking trip, in hopes of giving Steve another chance—but any sympathy I had for him faded fast when he started spinning it like it was Chuck’s fault. , The last nail in the coffin (so to speak) was when David mentioned that Steve’s brother lived in Palo Alto—where the mythical “George Sims” also lived! Chuck goes through every TNR issue, and the jig is up at long last! What nerve! No wonder Peter Sarsgaard got his well-deserved Golden Globe Award nomination for his performance as Chuck Lane!
Lovable receptionist Gloria hits the nail on the head:
Gloria: “You know what could have prevented all this, don’t you?”
Chuck: “No, what?”
Gloria: “Pictures. How could you make up characters if everyone you wrote about had to be photographed?”
Gloria’s right; not using pictures allowed Steve to keep the fabrications going until “Hack Heaven” tripped him up, shining a glaring light upon his lies at last. And so we come full circle. It just goes to show a picture really is worth a thousand words! Too bad TNR didn’t have a fiction column; it would have saved Steve and everyone else a lot of agita!
Ironically, after Glass was finally fired from The New Republic, he later wrote a novel, The Fabulist, about a young reporter who fabricated his articles. It was met with disdain, with critics finding the book self-serving
Stephen Glass’ friend and TNR colleague, David Plotz, also wrote an excellent first-person’s article about what Steve was like in real life and the film. They're well worth reading:
http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/life_and_art/2003/09/steve_and_me.single.html#pagebreak_anchor_2 (Click here)