2003 film about the rise and fall of Stephen Glass, a writer at The New Republic
magazine who spent years making up fictitious stories for the magazine before he was finally exposed. Hayden Christensen stars as Glass, proving that despite prior indications
he can act, and Peter Saarsgard stars as Glass's last editor, Charles Lane.Not to be confused with Transformers: Shattered Glass
This film provides examples of:
- Ambiguously Gay: Stephen tells a story to Caitlin and Amy about how "a dinner with this guy from the Post" turned into the guy "slipping his tongue down my throat." He's pulled away from the conversation before he can finish, so we don't actually know if it's true or if he was just fabricating it/pandering to the girls (he was worried that he was putting out "gay vibes").
- Benevolent Boss: Michael Kelly, Glass's first editor. This throws off the audience's expectations when Glass clashes with his second boss, Hero Antagonist Chuck Lane.
- Blunt Yes
Caitlin: Is that what you want, Amy? To have smoke blown up your ass by a bunch of editors?
Amy: Yes, yes it is.
- Book Ends: The scene with Glass at the Monica Lewinsky memorabilia convention.
- Composite Character: Glass's editors Lane and Michael Kelly were real people (as is Martin Peretz, a smaller part in the film) but his fellow journalists at The New Republic are all composites.
- Consummate Liar: Glass's web of fraud is quite intricate and plausible, and he goes to the extent of faking business cards, websites and email addresses to cover up his frauds. Curiously, however, when he's actually challenged in person when someone pulls the thread on one of his stories, he actually becomes something of a Bad Liar. His thread, while intricate and long, also collapses entirely when someone scratches the surface enough times.
- Daydream Surprise: Throughout the movie, we see snippets of the various stories Glass has researched and submitted, such as the Monica Lewinsky convention, the Young Republican Wacky Fratboy Hijinx Party and, of course, Hack Heaven. All of which, as we learn the extent of his fakery, are heavily implied to be just his imagination. The high school class Glass addresses as a Framing Device turns out to be one of these, as it's revealed that he's just daydreaming while in a meeting to determine precisely the extent of his fraud.
- Deadpan Snarker: Penenberg, taking a bit of delight in unraveling the New Republic's story.
Penenberg: There is one thing in this story that checks out; there does appear to be a state in the Union named Nevada.
- Enforced Method Acting: When the Young Republicans harass and chase a woman down a hallway, the horrified look on the actress's face is made more real because the director instructed the actors to glare at her silently before filming and not respond to her attempts at conversation.
- Eureka Moment: An offhand comment causes Lane to realize the truth about "George Sims," the alleged president of Jukt Micronics who called Lane from Palo Alto to complain about Glass's story. Glass's brother lives in Palo Alto. Once Lane finds out, he realizes that Glass wasn't just duped by hoaxsters, he was lying about every single thing in the story and even enlisting his brother in the cover-up.
- Foreshadowing: There's an early scene where Stephen's story about the Young Republicans has a hole, but he's able to cover his tracks and Michael doesn't press further once one of Glass's corrections is confirmed by the hotel where the story took place.
- Framing Device: Glass tells his story to a journalism class that turns out to be a figment of his imagination.
- Hero Antagonist: Charles Lane.
- Hero with Bad Publicity / Villain with Good Publicity: Glass is well-liked, self-effacing and charming, making it easy for people get get on his side against Lane, who is more distant and formal, and viewed as more of a distrusted interloper after he got the job previously held by a popular editor. Deconstructing this is essentially the crux of Lane's angry rant to Caitlin after he's fired Glass and she confronts him about it, saying that while everyone might hate him they all allowed Glass to drag the magazine's name through the mud purely because they liked him.
- Hypocrite: One scene features Glass fact-checking an article for a more inexperienced colleague, and raking him over the coals for the numerous inaccuracies and shoddy journalism it contains.
- Imagine Spot: Glass telling his story to a journalism class.
- Implausible Deniability: Stephen's story is destroyed for good when the building where he claimed the hacking convention was held is found to be closed on Sundays, the day Stephen's piece took place. Also, the building definitely did not look like it could hold as many people that Glass said attended the event. His response: "All I know is that I was here."
Stephen: I don't know what you're talking about, OK? Those are all real people!
Chuck: Look at me...and say that again.
Stephen: *looks him in the eye* Those are all real people.
- Intrepid Reporter: Adam Penenberg. Stephen Glass would very much like to be thought of as one of these, but he very much isn't.
- Irony: Many of the reporters at the New Republic express a strongly-held (and slightly snobby) opposition to the idea of including photos in the magazine, citing their integrity as a news magazine over those publications which do provide them. At the end, however, a secretary bitterly notes that what Glass did would be a lot harder if he'd had to include photographs of the people involved in his stories; not providing photos has ended up damaging the magazine's integrity far more.
- Kubrick Stare: Lane shoots one at Glass after finding out that the building Glass claims the conference was at was closed that day.
- Lame Excuse: Played seriously; Glass starts coming out with these when his lies begin to be exposed.
- Lecture As Exposition: The scenes where Glass is talking to the classroom help movie viewers understand how fact-checking works and how Glass got away with his fabrications.
- Manipulative Bastard: Very subtly; Glass tends to use his 'aw-shucks' humble act to make people feel sorry for him.
"Are you mad at me?"
- Match Cut: From Glass's face in the classroom to Glass's face at his last meeting with Chuck Lane.
- Never My Fault: How Glass spins all his mistakes, claiming he was "duped" with the '"Hack Heaven" story. Even when all the holes are found in the story, Stephen tries to turn it around on Chuck for not "backing" him.
- Not So Different: After the conference call with Forbes Digital that crumbles Stephen's story, Chuck calls the Forbes editor as a mild plea to go easy on Stephen, saying that he was a troubled kid whose mistake could cost him a promising career, while the unspoken implication is that a story exposing Glass could ruin The New Republic. This is the same stance Stephen's co-workers and the New Republic execs take when Chuck tries to crack down harder on Stephen once he learns the lies ran deeper than what was initially believed.
- The motivations between the scenes couldn't be more different, though: in the first, Chuck is trying to save Stephen and, by extension, the magazine from a seemingly one-time issue. In the second, Chuck is actively trying to destroy Stephen because he wants to save the magazine.
- Off the Record
- Oh Crap: Glass when he realizes he gave a fake phone number with the wrong area code. And again when he learns that the building where the hacker conference purportedly took place was closed that day.
- Old Media Playing Catch-Up: A theme of the film. The New Republic is a veritable old stalwart of print media, with a long and proud (and slightly snobby) tradition of being, among other things, "the in-flight magazine of Air Force One" and a distinguished reputation for accuracy and honesty. Forbes Digital Tool, the online magazine that exposes Glass's fraud with Hack Heaven, as a representative of the burgeoning online media environment, is the new kid on the block and is initially wary about taking on the New Republic. It soon becomes apparent, however, that the New Republic and its traditions are completely ill-equipped to cope with someone like Glass, particularly since one of the ways in which the threads on "Hack Heaven" get pulled is when the Forbes journalists... do a basic search for the company name through Yahoo. In Real Life, the whole episode actually was one of the key moments that established online media as a serious competitor to traditional print media rather than just a novelty.
- Playing Against Type: As Penenberg, the Intrepid Reporter who exposes Glass... Steve Zahn?
- Precision F-Strike: "You work for the fuckin' New Republic", says Caitlin, trying to convince him not to leave the Republic for law school. Penenberg also gets one once he combs through Glass's article for the first time: "That New Republic article is a fucking sieve."
- Pull the Thread: The final hour is basically this. Glass's increasingly desperate efforts to protect himself almost make you feel sorry for him.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: During the original screening, test audiences didn't believe that the New Republic journalists in the film could be in their twenties. Hence, is a placecard was added in the beginning of the film indicating that the average age was 26. Glass, the youngest, was 24 when the scandal broke out in 1998.
- Shout-Out: Glass's pitch of "Hack Heaven" involves his subject wiggling his hips in bravado while screaming "Show me the money!" One could argue that the film is exactly where Glass is pulling inspiration for his fabrication from (the film came out two years before the Glass incident).
- Shutting Up Now: Stephen tries to appeal to Michael in an effort to take the heat off himself, but Michael, knowing the kind of shit Stephen is in, quietly asks him if Glass ever cooked a piece for him while Mike was editor. Stephen doesn't respond.
- The silence is even more poignant as at least half of Glass's pieces were cooked when Michael was editor.
- Smug Snake: Glass initially comes off as a humble, self-effacing person, but the longer he keeps it up the more we begin to see what a slimy, phony weasel he actually is. Note how subtly smug he is when his co-workers find themselves unable to compete with his exciting and quirky (and entirely fabricated) story pitches when presenting their comparatively duller (but real) ones.
- Stylistic Suck: Averted. The hilariously crappy Jukt Micronics page (basically an amateur AOL webpage) Stephen Glass tried to pass off as the official site of a "major software corporation" is the actual page Glass created in real life.◊ No Hollywood exaggeration of its ineptitude was needed.
- Furthermore, the point is clearly made that even though this was the relatively early days of businesses adopting the Internet as a tool, even by those standards it was still bad; the Forbes Digital reporters — people who knew a little something about the Internet back then — openly express incredulity that this could the website of a corporation specialising in computer technology.
- Truth in Television: His TNR coworkers might be composites but Glass's career and his fall are both rendered fairly accurately.
- Unreliable Narrator: Glass's opening narration isn't exactly accurate.
- Villain Protagonist: Glass, obviously.
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Glass went to law school and began a career as an author, Chuck Lane became a writer for the Washington Post, and Michael Kelly died in 2003 covering Operation Iraqi Freedom.
- "World of Cardboard" Speech: Lane to Caitlin Avey towards the end when she is still sticking up for Glass.
- Wounded Gazelle Gambit: A variant; when his increasingly tenuous web of lies begins to unravel, Glass' response is basically to start whining and playing the victim.
Glass: I didn't do anything wrong, Chuck!
Lane: I really wish you'd stop saying that!
- Just to give an idea on how often he uses this, Caitlin tells him to stop playing this card only 15 minutes into the film. There's an element of Irony here, however, as Caitlin is at this point unaware of Glass's true nature and actions and is, from her point of view, trying to boost his self-esteem by getting to stop what she views as him deprecating himself.