Glass & The Human Stain
Reviewed by Dennis Morton
Deception is much in the news these days. And whether its
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
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, its because I
really dont want to reveal much about the plot.
Ill tell you that this film has a take on the tired May
/ December romance theme that is unlike any Ive seen before.
And Ill 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 Kidmans
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. Its 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 Meyers smart adaptation of Philip Roths
book, Robert Bentons 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 KUSPs Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.