Police sirens echo in the background of a wintry New York City night landscape. The prize-winning fight is heard on the radio, the one Bud “The Saint” Gordon has been risking his comeback and life on. He should be at the fight of which he is managing, but an affirmation as to what is most important has dawned on his soul. Has Bud made the right decision? As the fight plays out, not a single punch falls on screen. The audience is left in darkness, as the verdict rings true. What will happen to Bud “The Saint” Gordon now?
These questions and others profoundly layer Glass Chin, the crime boxing drama by writer/director Noah Buschel, who brought us last year’s critically acclaimed single-location film Sparrows Dance. Glass Chin follows Bud Gordon, a once-famed New Jersey boxer whose star fell short after being knocked out in a high stake fight. Now living in a dingy studio with no business, Bud longs for his former champion glory. With promises of restoring his shattered image and ego, he makes a deal with J.J., an electrifyingly shady entrepreneur. As Bud further gets involved in JJ’s affairs, he finds himself framed for murder and faces a choice between image and integrity.
Buschel does not spare a single second sugar coating the struggles in Gordon’s story. Like so many of the director’s films, Glass Chin is another example that exemplifies realism. By veering away from Hollywood’s kaleidoscope of rose-colored lenses, Bushcel has managed to encapsulate his own distinct vision through unfiltered contact. From screenplay to casting and cinematography, each of his films embodies real life unparalleled to any other living filmmaker working today. Glass Chin is no exception.
Through the art of seclusion, in terms of setting and scope, Buschel subtly centers his characters’ lives in the real world. Set during Christmas, the audience observes healthy nodes to the holiday without the references being too overt. From Christmas trees set in the corner of a studio to lights decorating storefronts, the setting is merely an accent to the film’s realism. Without going into too much detail as to why the film is set during early winter, Buschel allows the audience to jump into the lives of our characters without restraint. We are not conversation starters, yet already part of the conversation.
This plot trajectory appears in our character’s background stories, virtually being close to null. Billy Crudup’s shady restaurateur J.J. Cook is seen as awkwardly aggressive without explanation. The details to Mae (Kelly Lynch) and Bud’s (Corey Stoll) affair are vaguely pieced together through sex, but never through throwback dialogue.
Despite a lack of personal understanding of each character, the audience is intimately involved in characters’ lives through a tight scope and lack of extras. Virtually every shot has no more than two characters. Whether it’s in an empty movie theater, a dinette table in an antique diner car, or on the dusty streets of New York City, the focus is with our actors and their dialogue. Background noise becomes mute; even the city shuts down. Immediate attention goes to the actors’ performances, simulating a powerful stage play. Marin Ireland (Sparrow’s Dance) is virtually playing the completely opposite of last year’s agoraphobic actress in Buschel’s Sparrow Dance, and proves her range with a hotheaded take on Bud’s girlfriend Ellen. Stoll and Ireland have magnetic chemistry that forces the audience to fight alongside their relationship, especially as Mae gets back in Bud’s life. Glass Chin is throttled by how intimate the film feels. Like a fighting match, it’s all about the two opponents in the ring. Nothing else matters.
– Christopher Clemente