I’ve been thinking about an issue with the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy recently, and how we perceive its actors. For all the wooden performances, there was potential with the cast: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson, and Natalie Portman have all proven to be amazing actors. And when you look at Hayden Christensen, the star of the last two prequel films, his potential has been squandered, especially when you look at his other performances.
Based on the article by Buzz Bissinger, Christensen plays Stephen Glass, a young journalist for The New Republic who gained notoriety for fabricating twenty-seven of the forty-one pieces he wrote for the magazine, after longtime editor Michael Kelly (Hank Azaria) is fired and replaced with Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard). After Glass’ article “Hack Heaven” is published, Adam Penenberg (Steve Zahn), a reporter for the online arm of Forbes, with the help of colleague Andy Fox (Rosario Dawson), poke holes in the article, which they confront Glass about. Stephen tries to fight it but is met with their skepticism and the growing uncertainty from Chuck about the article and other pieces of his.
The cast is spectacular, with Hayden Christensen taking most of the spotlight. The way he plays Stephen Glass is simultaneously charismatic and pathetic. Both traits compliment each other; when telling the stories, he has the confidence of someone who believes it, and his pathetic side serves to win over his co-workers and garner sympathy. Peter Sarsgaard shares the spotlight as well, playing a man who’s forced to take leadership despite being unpopular amongst his peers. And watching Steve Zahn and Rosario Dawson was a joy. Individually, they have distinct personalities, with Dawson being more motivated to work on cracking Glass, while Zahn is stubborn to take the help. Even Hank Azaria gives a solid performance.
As biopics go, this one is compelling. I like Stephen Glass’ role as an unreliable narrator. The events coincide with a framing device where Glass is visiting his high school English class and talking to the students about how to make it in journalism. And without giving any spoilers, the ending is the cherry on the sundae. It also works for the narrative contrast as Stephen gets caught up in his lies, contrasted with the aspiration the protagonist of being seen as a mentor/celebrity returning to his humble origins.
The “Star Wars” prequels did not do Hayden Christensen’s talent as an actor any justice; but fortunately, this movie makes up for it. With an amazing cast and brilliant storytelling, this is an underappreciated gem that deserves an appraisal.