Regular readers of this series will remember that I argued Breach is the most D.C. movie ever made. A few years before he made Breach, director Billy Ray’s excellent debut was Shattered Glass. In it, Hayden Christensen plays Stephen Glass, a star reporter at The New Republic who was eventually exposed for making up most of his stories. Steve Zahn plays the scrappy reporter who firsts suspects Glass, while Peter Sarsgaard plays Chuck Lane, an editor at The New Republic who finally sees Glass for who he is. The film is noteworthy for the personality type it exposes: Glass seems like a needling sociopath who feigns mental illness in order to manipulate people, while Lane’s distant nature helps him see through Glass’ bullshit.
In the film’s best scene, Glass tries to quash Lane’s suspicions by dragging him to the anonymous-looking office buildings in Bethesda, Maryland. This where Lane loses his patience, and realizes the full extent of Glass’ constant lying. This scene was shot on location in Bethesda, and if you know anything about living in the area, there is another reason Lane’s anger is totally justified. Taking the Red Line from downtown D.C. toward Maryland is a huge pain in the ass, and it was even more annoying back in the late 1990s when the film took place. People living in the area should sympathize with Lane simply because his underling wastes an afternoon trying to call his bluff, and it doesn’t work.
Parts of Shattered Glass are frustrating, even disturbing, when viewed as a snapshot of late-century media. Chloë Sevigny plays a character inspired by Hanna Rossin, an editor at The Atlantic who would later write “The End of Men.” It’s no wonder, either: The New Republic around that period was a hotbed of workplace sexism and harassment, with Marty Peretz protecting longtime literary editor Leon Wieseltier from any internal criticism. Of course, Shattered Glass was made fifteen years before the #MeToo movement, and at best serves as a capsule of how the worst way to annoy your bus is to take him on a goose chase into suburban Maryland. It will never happen, but I’d like to see Billy Ray remake his film, with the added knowledge of what would become of that magazine and its culture.