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Poor Poor Pitiful Me

By Shawn Stone

Something sure smells funny: Sarsgaard in Shattered Glass.

Shattered Glass
Directed by Billy Ray

It’s hard to feel sorry for ex-magazine journalist Stephen Glass. He made up stories, published them as fact, and then made pathetic stabs at covering his lies. It’s even more difficult to sympathize with the venerable journalistic poobahs he fooled at Harper’s, George, Rolling Stone and the magazine that made him an associate editor and published more than 20 of his partially-to-totally faked pieces, The New Republic. And yet, one can’t help get the feeling that sympathy is what the film Shattered Glass is after.

Glass (Hayden Christensen, charming and creepy) is a nerdy geek with an unassuming manner and a talent for office politics. He turns in one entertaining story after another. It’s easy to enjoy them; the film is at its best when dramatizing the imaginative, entertaining fiction Glass offered up as fact, like the drunken young conservatives swilling liquor and abusing hookers, or the pimple-faced teen hacker with an agent.

Only one fellow staffer seems immune to his charm—Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard), the man who will become editor of TNR, and, ultimately, discover his fabrications.

The way the staff coddles Glass is embarrassing. Co-associate editors Caitlin (Chloë Sevigny) and Amy (Melanie Lynskey) are almost surrogate girlfriends, babying his moods and helping him polish his pieces. (These scenes inadvertently suggest why some young women no longer identify themselves as feminists—they’re too busy soothing male egos to be aware of their own.) No one thoroughly fact-checks his articles, no matter what complaints are made about their veracity.

Everything starts to fall apart when, in late 1998, TNR publishes his story on the teen hacker. The intrepid journalists at the now-defunct Internet magazine Forbes Digital Tool (played with snarky charm by Steve Zahn and Rosario Dawson) discover that not a single detail of the tale is verifiable.

At this point, the film becomes more about Lane, as the editor begins to realize that Glass is, at the very least, a pathological liar. When confronted with the truth, Lane proves to have a core of steel (Sarsgaard plays this with great subtlety; it’s the best performance in the film). Glass is fired; the staff at TNR offer up an apology to their readers; and the great nobility of journalism and the magazine are upheld in a weirdly uplifting way.

The neatness of this ending seems hollow, because Shattered Glass portrays a political magazine without providing any political subtext. The characters repeatedly reference the fact that The New Republic was the “in-flight magazine of Air Force One,” but the film neglects to spell out what that meant in the Clinton era: TNR was an ultra-centrist rag with a prototypical 1990s-style Democratic-conservative bent. As an explanatory title notes, the median age of the staff was 26; they were also all white, and—as the film illustrates—a very insular bunch.

Thus, the delicious irony that Glass was brought down by hungry reporters at an online magazine. At that point, I was hoping the film would be about Zahn and Dawson nailing Glass to the wall, a new-media Woodward and Bernstein. The folks at TNR can’t even recognize the primitive Web site Glass cobbled together, in a failed attempt to cover his ass, as fake.

Finally, Glass is pegged as a charming sociopath, and The New Republic as a noble journalistic enterprise ultimately dedicated to truth and a higher calling. The former is true enough, but the latter is so blatantly self-aggrandizing that the audience can’t help but choke on it. By the way, if you visit the Shattered Glass Web site, you can click on an offer for a few free issues of The New Republic.

Not Quite Right

Gothika
Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz

Gothika may be a creepy-cool word (rather tailor-made for a tattoo, in fact), but it has nothing to do with the slick junker of a movie it titles. Then again, maybe it does, since this psych-ward thriller is mostly composed of creepy-cool camera tricks and scenarios. Directed by weirdie actor Mathieu Kassovitz (Birthday Girl) with a relish for meaningless weirdness, the film follows the disintegration of Dr. Miranda Grey (Halle Berry), who is married to the institution’s paternalistic boss (Charles Dutton). The two psychiatrists specialize in repression and denial, indicated by the twilight blues of the set design, which create a monochromatic murk so deep audiences may wonder how the doctors find their way down the labyrinthine hallways, let alone read their case files.

After a trying session with Chloe (Penelope Cruz, brutally deglamorized), who suffers from “embellished rape fantasies,” Miranda heads home, brushing off the advances of coworker Pete Graham (Robert Downey Jr.) as she goes. Three days later, she wakes up to find herself an inmate of her place of employment, charged with a grisly crime she doesn’t remember. The last thing she saw before blacking out was a bleeding blonde girl in the middle of the road, who spontaneously burst into flames when Miranda tried to help her. The fiery specter makes a striking metaphor for going into shock, but after that, the story dissolves into a jumble of supernatural clichés (What Lies Beneath comes to mind far too often). Foremost among them is the question of whether Miranda is really insane, or the victim of a diabolical plot, or the prey of a diabolic entity, or maybe the conduit for a revengeful, long-dead victim, or simply a hapless vessel for the script’s pile-up of red herrings, which includes Miranda’s husband’s best friend, the town sheriff (Fargo’s John Carrol Lynch, who should’ve stayed in Minnesota).

No need to ask why a brilliant shrink is best buddies with a slow-witted law enforcer, or to wonder how far the nebbishy Graham (who apparently took diction lessons from the Rain Man) will go to make Miranda his very own; there are too many shock-value dead ends for any of that to matter. Despite all the psychosexual and satanic undertones, the plot bogs down into boredom, which is no fault of Berry’s—she gives her purely reactive role more emoting than it deserves. The film’s interest comes solely from cinematographer Matthew Libatique, who pulls some atmospheric punches, including one genuine “gotcha!” moment, and lots of artfully visceral body slams at Miranda’s expense.

—Ann Morrow

Out of the Litter Box

Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat
Directed by Bo Welch

One would think, following the disaster that was How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the Ron Howard-Jim Carrey version, not the Chuck Jones-Boris Karloff one), producer Brian Grazer would have caught a clue that children’s literary classics, particularly those by Dr. Seuss, are not his forte. But no, that would be too obvious, and there’s so much money to be made turning yet another of Theodor Geisel’s works into a cinematic monstrosity that bears neither allegiance to its forebear nor respect for the millions of readers who have loved it.

Neophyte director Bo Welch is bereft of the tools necessary to make Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat work—namely, intelligence, wit and ingenuity. He allows Mike Myers (the Cat) to have a field day, concocting endless riffs on matters that either aren’t of interest to children or just aren’t suitable for them. Case in point: an excruciatingly long “infomercial” segment in which Myers plays (1) the Cat as a Ron Popeil-type inventor hawking goods, (2) the buffoonish emcee of the program, and, (3) for good measure, the Cat, watching the infomercial with great glee. What children—or adults, for that matter—do you know who get such pleasure, either real or sarcastic, out of such viewing?

It seems as though Myers simply thought up a plethora of sight gags and one-liners, and Grazer, Welch and screenwriters Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer thankfully incorporated them in lieu of working out a cogent storyline and infusing real humor. The tone is awkwardly adult, as when the Cat admires a photo of Mom (Kelly Preston), which opens out like a Playboy centerfold. Actors Spencer Breslin (Conrad) and Dakota Fanning (Sally) are really quite good; so, for that matter, is Alec Baldwin as a lecherous, slovenly neighbor who would have been more at home in a different film. It’s not that I’m bound to my own specific childhood memory of The Cat in the Hat, but that I object heartily to this movie, which eviscerates anything joyful from the original in favor of cheap shots and ugly innuendo.

—Laura Leon


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