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Review: Glittering, finely pointed 'Glass'

Christensen gives terrific performance

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

Shattered Glass
Hayden Christensen as Stephen Glass in "Shattered Glass."

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(CNN) -- Hayden Christensen has proven that he is one heck of a good actor -- when you get him away from George Lucas' wooden dialogue and tepid direction.

In "Life As A House," and now in "Shattered Glass," Christensen has given intense, thoughtful performances which mark him as one of the industry's top new talents -- while highlighting just how bad the past two "Star Wars" films have actually been.

Christensen plays the lead character, writer Stephen Glass, in this true story of a young man's fall from grace. Glass went from being one of the most sought-after journalists in Washington, D.C., to almost wrecking The New Republic magazine with his lies and deceptions.

In the mid-'90s Glass' byline dominated story after well-written, cogent story. He was brilliant. He was a star. He was also a liar of grand proportions.

In all, Glass fabricated facts -- or made up entire stories -- for 27 of the 41 articles he wrote for The New Republic during his time there. He fooled everyone he worked with, including two different editors, the late Michael Kelly (played by Hank Azaria in "Shattered Glass") and Charles Lane (Peter Sarsgaard), with his misinformation.

In the competitive world of journalism, it's important to stay ahead of the curve. In Glass's case, he just invented the curve.

Thrown into doubt

Shattered Glass
Charles Lane (Peter Saarsgard) rips into Stephen Glass (Hayden Christensen) in a scene from "Shattered Glass."

Glass was able to pull this off because so many of his stories were based on notes he kept private, supposedly taken during events that didn't happen. The fact checkers at the magazine were forced to take him at his word.

Glass also had a refreshing, self-deprecating personality, which set him apart from many of his glory-seeking, dog-eat-dog colleagues. This calculated habit of self-doubt caused some people at the magazine to feel the need to protect Glass even when the facts started turning against him.

Azaria and Sarsgaard are both excellent as dedicated men who become victims of their own perspectives. Chloe Sevigny, the queen of the indies, is also very good as one of Glass' colleagues who tries to protect him even as the awful truth begins to dawn.

Wake-up call

Writer/director Billy Ray has said he was drawn to this story because Glass represents a wake-up call about the state of journalism in this country -- a wake-up call which he says grew even louder when Jayson Blair's falsehoods at The New York Times were revealed this spring.

Ray believes it's very dangerous when people can no longer believe what they read. At that point, he notes, people tend to get all their news from television or stop seeking it entirely -- two bad solutions, he has said.

Therefore, Ray set up "Shattered Glass" so that every scene, he says, would tell the truth. The film shows he stuck to his word. "Shattered Glass" is a compelling movie that at times feels almost like a thriller, as Glass tries desperately to cover his tracks and compounds his lies with more and more lies. Finally, he comes crashing down, caught in his own net of deceptions.

The film emerges as a cautionary tale about the perils of succeeding no matter the cost, and the frailties of a profession that is supposed to protect our freedoms by always revealing the truth -- no matter the cost.

With a fine script, good performances and taut direction, "Shattered Glass" is also one of the best films I've seen this year.

"Shattered Glass" opens in limited markets on Friday, October 31, and will go national over the next two months. It is rated PG-13.


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