Former New York Times journalist Jayson Blair has misstepped in his career which has cost him lifelong liability. Blair was dragged through the coals when he was caught plagiarizing in 2003 with numerous works. His infamous write-up knocked the credibility of the otherwise well-regarded news outlet he worked for, and spun the world of journalism out of control with readers growing increasingly sceptical of print media.
Blair’s tumultuous whirlwind is frustrating, but fascinating. This particularly shows during passive testimonials with Blair himself. These events have enough material to build a thought-provoking evening news segment or an hour long television special. With commercials and bumpers, the latter would be around 45-minutes in length. Filmmaker Samantha Grant, unfortunately, is trying to communicate Blair’s story in 75-minutes.
Her film A Fragile Trust wants to act as an accessible modern day portal to this important headlining morality tale, and it is to some extent. It certainly was able to inform me on Blair’s misguided and insensitive ways that are triggered by inner struggles.
However, too much of Grant’s doc feels padded with continual reminders that Jayson Blair did a very bad thing.
This isn’t to discredit Grant as a filmmaker. She shows plenty of promise as a documentarian with how she’s structured A Fragile Trust, though some of her creative touches make her doc a lot more stagey than it should be.
A Fragile Trust has an appealing look and a fairly quick pace. I especially like how Grant introduced each interviewee. A picture of a business card with their name would appear and then niftily cross fade into a lower third.
A lot of the people Grant has interviewed offer lots of speculations about Blair as a person. They are not afraid to make frank snap judgments, which only get to be objectionably shallow when they can’t back up why they feel like that.
Although the doc is harsh towards Blair and his poor decision making, it does allow the controversial writer to honestly speak his mind and tell the audience how he’s dealt with criticisms towards his trustworthiness. It’s a doc that nicely shows that Samantha Grant is courageous as a filmmaker but also courteous towards her subjects.
This is clearly a case of a documentary having depth but can’t plunge as far as it needs to go for a feature length project. I believe Grant and her team have picked all the right bits of information, but it just doesn’t add up to something that was worth telling on a grand scale.
Look at it this way: if one was to simplify and transcribe A Fragile Trust into a children’s book, it would be one of those picture books that becomes repetitious in order to nail in how everyone else feels about the main character. Every third page would have an illustrated group of Blair’s disgruntled comrades and employees with a caption reading, “and they were all disappointed in Jayson.”
I’m disappointed in Jayson too. But, I’m also pretty disappointed with this thin documentary.