Apples and oranges. Comparing films, or people — even apples and oranges — forces tough judgment calls. That’s why it feels safer to key our comparisons on hard, irreducible nuggets of experience. Our own experience. I spent three decades in broadcast journalism working around fine reporters and charlatans. In the world of REPORTERS GONE BAD we have an established contender,”Shattered Glass,” facing the new kid in the newsroom, “Perfect Stranger.”
“Perfect Stranger” showcases a pair of bona fide movie stars, Halle Berry as a journalist with revenge on her mind and Bruce Willis as the cad suspected of murdering her childhood friend. Berry’s character, Rowena Price, wants to get the goods on Harrison Hill (Willis) after transcripts from a series of online chats connect him with her dead friend Grace (Nicki Aycox). Rowena signs on as a temp in Hill’s New York ad agency and promptly catches his eye. She enlists an obsessed co-worker, Miles Haley (Giovanni Ribisi), who provides the cyberskills to connect the dots between Hill and the crime. It’s not an easy reach and no one has clean hands.
The Defending Champion
“Shattered Glass” is a film based on real people and events. It offers a cautionary tale about the risks in lowering your skepticism. Stephen Glass was a journalistic fraud who tarnished the reputation of several national magazines during the 1990’s. His charm, energy and smarts gulled editors and colleagues at publications like Harper’s, George, Rolling Stone and the New Republic. His editor, Chuck Lane, spared no one: “He handed us fiction after fiction and we printed them all as fact…just because we found him…entertaining.” “Shattered Glass” lays out a process of discovery and repair that is painful to watch.
“Perfect Stranger” will quickly head to DVD. That isn’t the worst thing. Like many studio productions this has a dark sheen that obscures several real problems for an audience. Characters are drawn in obvious, primary colors: No one — besides the creepy Miles — is much more than a cardboard cutout. Neither hero nor villain is especially likable or unlikable or recognizable. The story’s march toward resolution is impeded by too many red herrings that turn the path into mud. By contrast, the dimensions of deceit and betrayal in “Shattered Glass” are more human-scale and scarier. That says a lot because those elements are mainly played out in an environment of office cubicles and computer screens. Stephen Glass (Hayden Christensen) resembles the nerds who populate that world. The people portrayed in “Shattered Glass” approximate the real ones who thrashed out the lies and set the record straight. Some of the film’s dialog is taken directly from recordings made of Glass, his bosses and the lawyers. The real Chuck Lane served as a technical adviser on the film; the real Stephen Glass declined.
And the winner is…
“Shattered Glass” fights outside its weight class and scores convincingly. It cost six million dollars to make and shows more results for the money. There are no car chases or computer effects to carry this film; strong acting and a tightly focused script do the heavy lifting. Actor Peter Sarsgaard earned a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of New Republic Editor Charles Lane. “Perfect Stranger” carries a muddled story that seems destined to become a minor footnote in the biographies of Willis and Berry. “Shattered Glass” easily wins the smackdown of REPORTERS GONE BAD.