Glass Chin Review
Bud Gordon WAS a contender. Now, like Brando’s iconic Terry Malloy in On The Waterfront, he’s a bum. Once known as “The Saint”, Bud (Corey Stoll) fought for the welterweight title but took a dive in the fifth round and ended a promising career for money in writer-director Noah Buschel’s sublime Glass Chin.
Ordinary life post-retirement has been anything but satisfying for a man obsessed with status. The New Jersey restaurant Bud fronts using his payoff goes broke. Friends and followers drop out of view with alarming regularity. And he’s plagued by the mediocrity of his surroundings, from the dingy suburban apartment he shares with his long suffering girlfriend (Marin Ireland) to the flabby, defeated image he sees in the mirror.
Picking himself up off the mat, he faces two equally unpalatable options: work alongside his former trainer to whip a new young fighter “Kid Sunshine” into shape for a title bout at Madison Square Garden, or collect debts for J.J. Cook, (the ever-protean Billy Crudup), the esthete bookie responsible for inducing his first dive.
Crudup’s Cook shimmers like a cool quicksilver mirage, from the sterling flatware at his club to the airstream trailer exhibit he “acquired” for his art gallery to the chrome suits he wears like armor. His glossy mien reflects back at Bud the glimmering image of a brighter future, always maddeningly out of reach. He dangles the promise of a new restaurant, bigger, better, “…in the City” and introduces Bud to his beverage director/former 80s Sports Illustrated model (played by Kelly Lynch) as a sweetener.
Everyone is always telling Bud how smart they think he is, and indeed brains and fighter’s instinct make him wary of being drawn into too tight a clutch with J.J. Bud walks a tightrope, working days in the gym followed by nightly ride-alongs with the uncomfortably sensual Roberto Flash (played with relish by Yul Vasquez). Clad in black leather jacket and mauve velour hoodie, Roberto listens to the New York Dolls while cruising from one intimidation visit to another. One of the best sequences involves him threatening the bettor David Johansen (aka Buster Poindexter) by implying harm to the mook’s pitiful diabetic cat.
What’s most remarkable about this film is the refreshing lack of physical violence onscreen. Instead Buschel (an ordained Zen Buddhist priest) delicately plays out menace in quiet, long master shots, the sparring verbal rather than corporeal. His grim canvas of snowy exsanguinated New Jersey townships conveys post-recession disquiet in empty buildings bereft of life and hope. He artfully implies peril, even when it comes to simply having Roberto ask Bud to pass him a silenced Beretta from the glove compartment, for use on one of their stops. “Just to scare him.” Roberto assures him. Bud is uneasy, as are we, but finds himself inexorably pulled further into the high-stakes ring into which J.J. has lured him. Roberto warns Bud early on — J.J. likes collecting people. And he never lets them go.
Ultimately this isn’t a film about boxing or beatings, it’s a quiet look at the struggle of small men always grasping at desperate fantasies that dissipate before their eyes. It’s a metaphor for the dying American Dream because sadly, to paraphrase George Carlin, you have to be asleep to think it might come true.