When his career self-destructed in 1998, Stephen Glass became the poster child for the phrase 'Never let the truth get in the way of a good story'. And while, in these cynical times, you might scoff at a true tale of a fibbing journalist as hardly revelatory, step back for a moment and consider the implications: Glass wasn't working for the Little Shitley Evening Chronicle. He was the hottest young talent at America's New Republic magazine, a publication so influential for Washington policy makers that it was half-jokingly referred to as "the in-flight magazine for Air Force One"...
Credit is due to writer/director Billy Ray, as Shattered Glass is able to make you consider these wider themes while still focusing astutely on the individuals involved... And it explores just how far the influence of one trustworthy liar can spread. More impressively, this is an even-handed stare into Glass' reality-twisted world - a tale that, unlike its subject, sticks closely to the facts and manages to unspool without celebrating or castigating the porkie-spinning journo. But Ray's not afraid to be tricksy either, spending the first 20 minutes crafting a sequence that could easily be cheesy but in fact helps set the scene better than any documentary footage could hope to.
Yet even with a taut, funny and - - at times - - disturbing script in place, this is the sort of film that lives and dies on its cast. Thankfully, Ray has some quality backup. Despite raising scowls and unintentional laughter as Attack Of The Clones' whine-glum Anakin Skywalker, Hayden Christensen breaks free of his Star Wars woodwork to inhabit the sulky, ingratiating and twitchy Glass with ease. He comes across as vaguely creepy, but it's easy to see how he wheedles his way into the affections of his colleagues, including fellow writer Caitlin (Chloë Sevigny) and Republic editor Michael Kelly (Hank Azaria).
It's fascinating to watch him try to justify his actions as the lies begin to slowly leak out. But as the film progresses and the deception unravels, we eventually realise this is as much another man's story: Chuck Lane, who rose from the ranks to replace Kelly as editor after the beloved magazine chief was fired, and had to fight for the trust of his rebellious staff. And Peter Sarsgaard seizes the role, conveying emotional exhaustion and boiling frustration with subtle looks and controlled outbursts as his character sifts for the real truth behind Glass' stories.
Ethics, truth and lies: it's all here. Shattered Glass may not do much to boost your trust in the media, but it's a story worth telling - and worth seeing.