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Shattered Glass & The Human Stain
Reviewed by Dennis Morton

Deception is much in the news these days. And whether it’s deception in high places that leads to war and the deaths of thousands of innocents, or a smaller deceit where the primary victim is the deceiver himself, most of us are fascinated with the subject.

Two movies opening this week explore, in varying degrees, the theme of deception. "Shattered Glass" is a portrait of the rise and, apparently, only temporary fall of Stephen Glass, who was a staff writer at The New Republic for about three years, from 1995 to 1998. During that time he wrote 41 articles for the magazine, 27 of which were fabrications, in part or whole. Glass, it turned out, was not so much a journalist as he was a writer of fiction. The reading public had little reason to question the veracity of the pieces Glass concocted. After all, an even stranger story was about to unfold on the larger stage of The White House.

There, a sexual peccadillo and an awkward attempt to deny it would threaten a constitutional crisis and the toppling of a president. And on another stage, on the other side of the continent, economic fictions were multiplying like rabbits.

In Silicon Valley billions of dollars were being invested in businesses constructed of little more than dreams and gullibility.

The more puzzling question is how Glass was able to dupe his very bright colleagues, among whom was a team of "fact checkers", whose mission it was to root out inaccuracies.

"Shattered Glass" plays a bit like a mystery, and works, even though we know who the culprit and the good guys are, almost from the beginning. Writer/Director Billy Ray gets wonderful performances from his two leads, Hayden Christensen and Peter Sarsgaard. They make "Shattered Glass" a docudrama well worth your time.

"The Human Stain" is about a smaller fiction generated by the larger evil of racism. In this case, victim and perpetrator merge. If this sounds a bit mysterious, it’s because I really don’t want to reveal much about the plot.

I’ll tell you that this film has a take on the tired May / December romance theme that is unlike any I’ve seen before. And I’ll tell you that the writing is often superlative. For an example of that, be on the lookout for the scene between Anthony Hopkins’ character – Coleman Silk, and his attorney. It bristles with intelligence.

Also, pay careful attention to the scene in which Nicole Kidman’s character visits a nature preserve. She muses aloud about a crow in a cage and in one short line she sums up the essence of the film. It’s a slightly daring metaphor, reminiscent of a scene earlier in the film when Coleman Silk asks a class about a pair of absent students.

In a film full of fine moments, perhaps my favorite involves Anthony Hopkins dancing with Gary Sinise. Sinise imparts just the right touch of reluctance to his character, and Hopkins displays an unexpected agility and grace.

"The Human Stain" is a modern version of a Greek tragedy, like the kind Hopkins’ character teaches his students.

Nicholas Meyer’s smart adaptation of Philip Roth’s book, Robert Benton’s direction and most of all, Nicole Kidman and Anthony Hopkins terrific performances make "The Human Stain" a movie not to be missed. I should mention the great soundtrack, too. Any movie with the good taste to feature a Johnny Hodges recording is way ahead of the pack.

For KUSP’s Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.