“Shattered Glass” is an interesting little film starring Hayden Christensen and Peter Sarsgaard.  It is a dramatized telling of the story of how a young writer, named Stephen Glass, fabricated a number of news articles which were printed under his by line for The New Republic, and how he was ultimately found out.

The film is like a number of other good, “small” films in that it doesn’t grab the audience.  Instead, it lures them along for the ride.  Before you know it, you’re really interested in the chase, and wondering how Stephen is going to get out of it.  Of course, you know he doesn’t, and The New Republic had to print a sort of retraction for a number of his articles.

As for the film, it’s worth watching as it airs this month on cable.  Hayden’s always kind of an unlikeable puppet, but Sarsgaard is at his best when he’s got a good script like this one.  He conveys the silent conflict he goes through as an editor in this situation, simultaneously rushing to defend and secretly investigate his popular employee, with a genuine, though quiet, believability.

I apologize for being self referential, but I’ve seen a few movies lately which I relate to, viscerally.  This is one of them.  As an editor, I’ve been in the position of trying to further a talented person’s career, despite himself.  I’ve also had to fire a talented artist because he just couldn’t perform to business expectations.  In this latter case it hurt me personally, because it meant a title I had a stake in never saw the light of day.

As a writer, you always want to deliver what an audience wants.  But you must also maintain the standards of your publication.  Stephen Glass worked for a news commentary magazine.  They demanded journalistic integrity.  He got one (several) over on them, because he was trusted, liked, and it was easy to believe his exciting stories.  Writing non-fiction is prone to this failure.  After all, a little embellishment can turn the mundane tale of a few political delegates attending a convention into a riveting story about the lavish excesses of young power brokers.

Working in fiction, you fail when you don’t embellish the story.

As a publisher of web comics and an I.T. professional, I did find it humorous that it was writing about technology which ultimately led to Stephen’s downfall.  As portrayed in the film, his efforts to conceal his misdeeds are so transparently thin that they fail even casual investigation by someone who knows what they’re looking at.