Skeptics aren’t often depicted in a flattering light in the movies, despite embodying the quality most likely to make someone a hero in real life. Sometimes it’s the condescending boyfriend who insists the house is not, in fact, occupied by a vengeful Japanese water ghost, or perhaps it’s the resident Poindexter in the heist crew who insists that some jobs are just too risky to endeavor. No matter the strain of skeptic, the person asking the most questions usually comes out looking like a worrywart at best and a wet blanket at worst.
Movies about journalism are supposed to be the exception to the rule, the only safe cinematic space for people prone to asking pointed questions and puncturing tidy narratives. But in Shattered Glass, Billy Ray’s drama about the fabricated stories that nearly capsized The New Republic, the skeptic has to earn his hero edit. Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard) is a skeptic of the wet blanket variety. He’s the only guy in the room not doubled over in laughter when his colleague Stephen Glass (Hayden Christensen) regales the New Republic staff with a pitch for his latest long-form, New Journalism masterpiece. Chuck has questions about how Stephen always seems to be in the right place at the right time to capture his stranger-than-fiction scoops, but with everyone so enraptured by Stephen’s work, Chuck looks like a jealous colleague rather than a journalist following his natural instincts.
Chuck’s reputation among the staff evolves from that of an joyless gadfly to that of a mean-spirited usurper when he steps into the editor job vacated by the well-liked Michael Kelly (Hank Azaria). Once he’s in a supervisory role, Chuck is in a better position to scrutinize Stephen’s work, which is backed by Stephen’s colleagues even as serious issues of veracity begin to multiply. Stephen is eventually unmasked when Chuck follows up on some fact-checking done by then-unknown tech reporters, only to find Stephen’s stories defy verification all the way down to the basic who, what, when, where, and why. The magazine is excoriated for its failure to conduct due diligence on Stephen’s stories, and Chuck gets a redemption arc for steering the magazine through an unprecedented time of trial. Though it’s told from Stephen’s unreliable perspective, Shattered Glass is an origin story for a superhero whose tendency to fret gives him X-ray vision.
Availability: Shattered Glass is available on DVD from Amazon, Netflix, and possibly your local video store/library. It can also be rented or purchased through the major digital services.