Here's Diana with our final Tribeca Film Festival 2014 review
It’s a chilly, damp night in a small urban city. On a nightly jog, a sweatpant-outfitted man and his dog trudge and bound respectively through the empty streets, with rain-drizzled lampposts to light the way and Laura nyro’s “Gonna take a miracle” playing to set the mood (both diegetic and nondiegetic). The pair slow down at a red-lit alleyway and stop at a hole-in-the-wall bakery. After a breather on the song’s bridge “It’s gonna take a miracle, yes, it’s gonna take a miracle,” the man takes out his earbuds to order a pain au chocolat. The shop owner tells him it’s the last one on the house and the jogger assures him that he’ll pay up soon. He is a man on-the-outs, not truly desperate but not nearly satisfied with the cards he was dealt and picked up along the way.
Bud “The Saint” Gordon (Corey Stoll) is a former professional boxer, whose post-retirement restaurant flopped and who didn’t have a Plan C lined up. [More...]
Going from fighting in Madison Square Garden to living in a “cozy” New Jersey apartment, Bud is looking for more from life, work and otherwise. His girlfriend (Marin Ireland) tries to help by circling want ads and spouting Buddhist wisdom (she’s even thinking of auditing a few Robert Thurman classes), but that only frustrates him more. Luckily before things get any more dire, Bud winds up with two gigs thanks to his “The Saint” glory days. One is as a trainer for an up-and-coming young boxer Kidd Sunshine (Malcolm Xavier), the other is as a muscleman for shady pseudo-sophisticate businessman J.J. (Billy Crudup, icily stellar as usual).
Joining J.J.’s other henchman Roberto (Yul Vazquez), the pair go and shake down a few people who owe J.J. money, from a bedraggled old man who racked up $10k in debt from some poor sports bets to a bearded, Berkeley-sweatshirt-wearing elementary school teacher on the Upper West Side with a coke problem. Along the way, Bud comes to learn that all is not right with the abrasive glam-rock loving, mascara-wearing Roberto, who regularly threatens animals and mistakes a baby corn for a baby carrot in the Chinese takeout “borrowed” from one of the debtors. (This last bit may have just been a low-budget script error or it could have been a tip into the mind of a sociopath. I’d like to lean towards the latter.)
Whereas Noah Buschel’s previous film Sparrows Dance was an agoraphobic romantic dramedy infused with eighth-century T’ang dynasty poetry, his follow-up Glass Chin is a neonoir boxing drama infused with Buddhist philosophy. Although we never see blood spilt onscreen, Buschel instead gives us an even more resonating battle of wills between Bud and J.J. Both began life in middling situations (one in New Jersey, the other in Pittsburgh). While making their ways to New York City, both wanted to be somebody. Corey Stoll gets the brooding meathead to a gruntled T, including that distinct restrained physicality you see in former athletes. Billy Crudup is stellar, capturing the manicured false "class" that comes with questionable wealth (too-precise elocution, snazzy clothes, all smiles until he needs to get down to business) and a very terrifying type of under-the-radar sociopath. Onscreen, he manages to threaten and manipulate without any movement or physical force beyond his commanding presence and wisely chosen words. They both admire each other -- Bud is impressed by J.J.’s flashy clothes and elevated vocabulary (e.g. using the word “prevaricators” instead of liars), J.J. in turn calls Bud and his ilk “monks of the gym.”
In the context of a post-2008 crash and bailout society, you can probably see where this film is heading (or as Ellen warns Bud, “Don’t try to go straight on a crooked road, you’ll only get flattened.”), but it’s still worth the ride. Though on the more slow-moving side, Glass Chin features a visually poetic rhythm cutting between HD wideshot long takes and incisive close-ups, highlighting both the script’s biting commentary and the overall theme of existential introspection. B+