Thursday, April 16, 2009

Overlooked: Shattered Glass

"There are so many show-offs in journalism. So many braggarts and jerks. They are always selling, always working the room, always trying to make themselves 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."

With Hollywood offering its latest Important Journalists Doing Important Things movie (State of Play, opening this weekend), it's time to focus on one of the best on-screen portrayals of the biz: The mostly overlooked 2003 release Shattered Glass.

Now, there's irony in that above quote (pulled from Script-O-Rama), which served as part of the film's opening V-O monologue. On one hand, it's pretty much true. On the other, it came from a real-life magazine "story cooker" upon which the film is based. Which is interesting, because -- as the film tells it -- this guy had to make up stories to get the sensationalism everyone (including his colleagues) wanted. That's not quite the edge-of-your-seat reporting offered in a lot of movie newsrooms.

Then again, if films strictly portrayed the day-to-day mundane nature of a lot of newspapers, that might not make for an interesting movie (unless it was meant to be funny/farcical). So this isn't meant to scold Hollywood for sexy-ing up the reporting business. More to commend a film that got it mostly right*.

*Zodiac, as I mentioned before, also nailed it -- refusing to succumb to formula as it portrayed reporters, editors and journalists almost perfectly as they tried to figure out how to handle a letter-writing serial killer in 1960s/1970s San Francisco.

Enough about that. More on Shattered Glass itself, a wonderfully understated film about an insecure man (Stephen Glass, played expertly by Hayden Christensen in his pre-stiff Anakin Skywalker days) with big talent and even bigger expectations of himself -- a fact that gets him into trouble when he becomes the star of The New Republic. With the wunderkind label firmly affixed to his forehead, he must impress his editors and fellow reporters. And when his favorite editor (played by Hank Azaria) gets ousted in favor of a perceived rival (played by major Oscar snub Peter Sarsgaard), Glass begins to think everyone's out to get him.

And that's when the, uh, fun starts.

What's best about this film is it's a talk piece, with writer/director Billy Ray letting his screenplay pack the punch. Unfortunately, the lack of attention-grabbing direction probably contributed to Shattered Glass' very, very modest success. But it's perfect here. This is a movie about ideas and characters, not chases and stalkers and ominous phone calls in the night.

Still ... maybe the trailer-makers should have thrown a few gunshots in to pull in the male 18-34 demo?

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