By Mikhail Karadimov December 11th, 2015
I first watched Shattered Glass way back when. Roughly around the same time I saw Before Sunset for the first time. This is when my film education began. I wasn’t wholly accustomed to this notion of an independent film, nor did I know that there were films in theaters that weren’t necessarily advertised on TV.
For the longest time, in order to keep with the quieter movies, I would feel out one of my high school buddies for recommendations. Sam always had a movie in his back pocket. Little seen flicks. One year he introduced me to The Station Agent (still his favorite film), another time it was Spartan. Not mega-ton-voltage flicks, but all the same, great movies. Reserved movies. Restrained movies. Mini-masterpieces, so to speak.
Shattered Glass was one of them.
I hesitated when I saw it in my local Hollywood Video. No way this could be good. Hayden Christensen? Nah-ah. And who the fuck are all these other bozos? Peter Sarsgaard? Chloe Sevigny? Steve Zahn? None of it appealed to me, certainly not the lead face. Such a punchable face. He produced so much ire in me and those around me, more so than Jar Jar, more so than Lucas—which yes, was a little irrational, but that’s what’s going to happen when you reduce someone as badass as Darth Vader to squirmy little zit. You know?
Anyway, all that being said, with Hayden and his wooden ways, his clunky words, his broken movement, his robotic tics—the man works some kind of magic in Shattered Glass. True magic. Idiosyncratic acting.
Here, he plays Stephen Glass, renowned journalist for The New Republic, renown cheater, liar, and general shitty dude who couldn’t shore up the integrity necessary for a journalist’s career. Stephen, little, little Stephen, cooked his stories, he fabricated them from nothing, and was eventually caught, exposed, and fired—not necessarily in that order.
What crippled young Hayden’s performance in the Star Wars prequels, oddly enough, bolsters him here. That awkwardness, that constant flop sweat, those hooded eyes. Hayden swallows his words, gulps them down, like unwanted vomit, he speaks them with an inward echo that reveals cavernous depths of shame. He acts like he’s spooked by the camera, spooked by the idea of an audience of strangers watching and ridiculing him, which is perfect for Stephen, who suspects we know, who suspects that his colleagues know: that he’s one fat fraud. He’s constantly preempting other people’s suspicions of him. He pesters people, questions them, feels them out, pokes them, assesses whether or not they know how full of shit he is, and then he spins it on them and tells them that they’re suspicious of him before they actually are, and then he wonders aloud why that might be.
Steven’s favorite refrain: “Did I do something wrong?”
Well, yes, you did, Steve. And so did Hayden. I think Hayden gets Stephen better than most other actors might. I think he knows how it feels to pretend to be something he is not. He understands what it is to fabricate a performance that holds neither the weight nor honesty of the greater entity from which it came. For Stephen that greater entity was The New Republic—the magazine of choice for Air Force One—and for Hayden it was…well…it was Star Wars. He buckled under the pressure, I’m sure, and gave to us one of the most lifeless performances not in Star Wars history, but film history. He let us down. He let himself down. And worst of all, he knew it, but kept on doing it. He fucked up Episode II and then, knowing what he knew, what the critics thought, what the fans thought, he fucked up Episode III.
I’d like to think that after Episode II, Hayden carried some of that guilt, some of that beaten-down-doggedness over to Shattered Glass, injecting all that pathos right into Stephen and creating a performance truly human, all too human, all too neurotic and scared and full of vapid bluster and egomania.
I’m sure Hayden had big plans—or rather: big dreams. He must have figured Star Wars would catapult him into a galaxy far, far away. But no, it didn’t. He crashed, and he burned, and we all reveled in it. No wonder he understood Mr. Glass. Glass had lofty ideas about his future, his greatness, all of which is shown in those opening scenes where he’s addressing a class that—as the end of the film reveals—isn’t really there. Stephen, like his stories, turned out to be a whole lot of nothing. Just a great liar. And a profuse sweater. A little scared man who feared what would happen once the world discovered him as a fraud.
Poor Hadyen…to sympathize with such tragedy….