GLASS CHIN (Noah Buschel, 2014)
22 East 12th St. between University Pl. & Fifth Ave.
Opens Friday, June 26
Writer-director Noah Buschel’s Glass Chin is a gentle, understated boxing movie, an indie sleeper that eschews brutal uppercuts, damaging overhand rights, and heavy knockout blows in favor of steady jabs and clever bobbing and weaving that slowly build in effectiveness. Unlike most fight flicks, there’s not a whole lot of shouting and braggadocio, blood and guts, and melodramatic relationships, no montages set to classic rock songs or slow-motion fight scenes. Instead, Glass Chin is a quiet, deeply contemplative character study of a conflicted man who finds himself at a crossroads. Corey Stoll is sensational as Bud “the Saint” Gordon, a former boxing champ trying to make a life for himself outside the ring. Living in New Jersey with his devoted girlfriend, Ellen (Marin Ireland), he is offered two opportunities, one helping Lou Powell (John Douglas Thompson) train Kid Sunshine (Malcolm Xavier) for an upcoming championship bout at Madison Square Garden, the other working for JJ Cook (Billy Crudup), a crooked restaurateur and loan shark who sends Bud out with Roberto (Yul Vazquez) to collect money from deadbeats, luring the ex-boxer by promising to back Bud’s dream of owning a restaurant in Manhattan. Bud bounces between training at the gym and accompanying Roberto on visits to such clients as Stanley (David Johansen) and Colby (Michael Chermus), who owe JJ big bucks and are going to have to pay for it if they don’t pony up the money. Bud knows he’s getting in too deep, and soon he finds himself in a tough situation that sends his world into a dangerous tailspin.
Employing a subtle confidence, Buschel (The Missing Person, Neal Cassady) plays with genre clichés right out of Rocky and other boxing flicks and redefines them, leading to unexpected twists and turns. He has assembled a terrific cast of stage veterans, including Crudup, Ireland, Thompson, Vázquez, Chernus, Katherine Waterston, Halley Feiffer, and Ron Cephas Jones, who give added depth to their relatively familiar characters. Crudup is particularly impressive as a soft-spoken, art-loving gangster who knows just how to get whatever he wants, never breaking his Zen-like demeanor. Evoking the way real boxing matches are filmed, Buschel sometimes cuts back and forth between characters speaking to each other, as if they are feeling each other out, and lets the camera remain still for a long period of time as they examine where they are and what should come next, like a boxer establishing himself in the ring. In fact, most of the action actually takes place offscreen, as Buschel focuses on how his protagonists react in the aftermath. He also ups the believability quotient by filming in real locations in New York City and New Jersey, often using natural sound and light and no musical score. (The incidental music includes songs by the New York Dolls, the Red Norvo Trio, the Cocteau Twins, and Laura Nyro.) Rising star Stoll (House of Cards, Ant-Man) is mesmerizing as Bud, a basically goodhearted soul who made some bad choices but is willing to face the consequences, his pensive eyes wondering where it all went wrong. Glass Chin pulls no punches, sneaking up on you and going the distance to win a hard-fought unanimous decision.