Movie Review - Glass Chin

In 2011, FX aired the series Lights Out, which only lasted for one season before it was cancelled. That series by Justin Zackham was about a washed up or down-and-out boxer who gets involved with the criminal element in the New York and New Jersey area, becoming a debt collector or hired thug basically. This film, written and directed by Noah Buschel, has the same premise, but the goals for each are stridently different.

Zackham wanted to tell an involving family drama, of a man who was a father, brother and son struggling with the demands and responsibilities of those roles with his desire to get back in the ring. Buschel instead could care less about boxing as a sport or even as it relates to his protagonist. Buschel more or less uses the boxing aspect as a way to modestly explore masculinity opposite modern American culture.

Buschel accomplishes this modest exploration in small, clever and subtle ways as almost to be unnoticeable. What he does as a filmmaker that is noticeable and what makes his movie a standout is how controlled his camera is, locking it down and staging a scene to focus squarely on performance and moving the lens only for specific reveals and only for maximum effect.

This movie in effect is a play of five people and with his camera, Buschel spotlights them all brilliantly and really allows them to shine. He allows them to breathe, to inhabit spaces and feel like we're watching actual living beings. Yet, it's not like watching stage theater. Buschel makes good use of New York as a physical location.

Corey Stoll (House of Cards and The Strain) stars as Bud Gordon, aka "The Saint," the former boxer who has fallen in financial hardship following his career. He still runs and spends time in the gym but not to get into the ring again. He seems like he used his boxing career or money to open a restaurant in Jersey but the place closed and now he's scrambling to find work somewhere, anywhere.

Billy Crudup (Almost Famous and Watchmen) co-stars as JJ Cook, a guy who comes across as someone from the mafia, or cut from that cloth. He's a well-dressed, well-mannered and highly-intelligent criminal. He's classy, cultured and measured when he speaks, but he takes advantage of people's vices or those in desperate circumstances, either through drugs or gambling, and squeezes them for lots of money. Otherwise, he threatens or kills them.

Yul Vazquez (American Gangster and Captain Phillips) plays Roberto, the right arm of JJ. He's the guy who does JJ's dirty work and does a very good job of waxing poetic about it like in a Quentin Tarantino film. However, his and everyone else's dialogue always feels genuine or authentic, and not necessarily "written."

Marin Ireland (Mildred Pierce and The Slap) also co-stars as Ellen Doyle, the girlfriend of Bud who feels like she's been with him through a lot of ups and downs, and has tolerated a lot of crap. Yet, she sticks with him because she truly loves him. She's not a materialistic person or is bothered by the lack of any luxury, and neither is Bud but he seems to have an eye to it that she totally lacks.

When JJ offers Bud an opportunity with the shadiness and possible illegality in full view, Bud still goes along. He naively thinks things will not go as bad as anyone can guess it will. He's then stuck and can't get out because JJ is able to blackmail him and back Bud into a corner.

The problem is that the movie climaxes with Bud having to make a choice whether to sacrifice himself or force someone else to make a sacrifice, not life-or-death, but still substantial. Unfortunately, the choice that Bud makes isn't built up all that well. His relationship with the gym owner, Lou, and young, black boxer, Kid Sunshine, played by Malcolm Xavier, are short-changed. Simply, I don't buy that Bud would make the choice he does or his arc is less of an arc than a short line.

Yet, Stoll, Crudup and Vazquez give amazing performances, solidifying even further what great actors they are. Crudup has been known to be a solid if not great actor for a while, but Stoll really makes a mark and is in great form here, and Buschel's stationary camera and long, continuous shots are extremely well-used. They underscore Stoll and Crudup's acting here fantastically.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains sex and violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 27 mins.


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