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A Fragile Trust: Film Review

The Bottom Line

Informative doc fleshes out the story but holds few surprises.

Venue

Hamptons International Film Festival

Director

Samantha Grant

Samantha Grant offers a step-by-step of the Jayson Blair debacle.

HAMPTONS — Looking at the Jayson Blair scandal 10 years after his plagiarism and fabrications ended a promising career at the New York Times, Samantha Grant's A Fragile Trust brings together not only key participants but observers whose voices weren't heard in the media's outburst of attention to the newspaper's spectacular screw-up. Though its even-tempered account may be more thorough than print and TV coverage at the time, the doc doesn't offer anything dramatic enough to draw many eyeballs at this late date; on video, though, it should have legs as a thoughtful one-stop postmortem.

Blair himself is onscreen a good deal here, reading from his much-maligned memoir and offering sometimes weasely apologies for his lies. His account, even so long after his public shaming, is sometimes limited by the therapeutic lens through which he views the episode: Yes, he'll own up to what he did, but he takes pains to suggest his bosses should've recognized signs of substance abuse and emotional instability. (True enough, but that's something for them to fess up to.) He's most helpful when describing how his first, minor lies opened a floodgate: Suggesting that most of us often resist temptation because we believe we'll get caught, Blair recalls the perspective-shift of realizing just how far from omniscient his bosses were.

Those bosses (notably former NYT executive editor Howell Raines) and less famous co-workers offer their perspectives on what it was like to work with Blair and how he survived at the paper for so long; outside observers like Seth Mnookin and Howard Kurtz offer harder-edged perspectives, while San Antonio Express-News reporter Macarena Hernandez (who was, poignantly, a fellow intern with Blair years earlier) describes the realization that he had presented her work as his own in the story leading to his exposure.

Colorful as some of this is, the film's biggest shock is unrelated to journalistic crimes: Just ten years after he became world-famous for ruining his life and derailing a few others, Blair has a successful business giving others advice as a "life coach."

Production Company: Gush Productions

Director: Samantha Grant

Screenwriters: Samantha Grant, Richard Levien

Producer: Samantha Grant

Directors of photography: Singeli Agnew, Samantha Grant

Music: Justin Melland

Editor: Richard Levin

No rating, 73 minutes