There is no one more fragile than a fighter who has lost power, status and money, and who especially has dimmed hopes that he will return to his former glory days in the ring. In Glass Chin written and directed by Noah Buschel, Bud ‘The Saint’ Gordon (an excellent Corey Stoll), wears his vulnerability like a tattered, yellow overcoat. He is at a financial dead end after his restaurant goes belly up and he is forced to move with his girlfriend (a fine Marin Ireland), from plush New York digs to a sour New Jersey dive. His meager surroundings are a pathetic reminder of how far his fortunes and luck have plummeted.
When we meet Bud he is quietly desperate. He nobly clings to the outer rims of an emotional abyss that, with his girlfriend’s support, he somehow manages to avoid plunging into. However, he still lacks the inner strength to make a good-natured response to a homeless man’s benign teasing about how ‘The Saint’ couldn’t “take it on the chin” losing the big fight. It is this wayward pride and displaced, weak ego that prove a bane that must be dealt with if Bud is to grow as an individual with character and integrity.
Though his situation is as bleak as the winter scene, Bud reminds his girlfriend he does have a few last aces up his sleeve. One involves his own inner healing: making a difference by training Kid Sunshine for an upcoming fight on which a lot of money is riding. The other opportunity is more financially promising. He will do odds and ends for J.J. (in an edgy, uber sardonic and Mephistophelian turn by Billy Crudup), with J.J.’s employee, Roberto. J.J. knowingly intimates that as the situation positively progresses with ‘The Saint’ on his team, results will eventually segue into Bud’s partnering with J.J. to reopen his restaurant in Manhattan. Despite his girlfriend’s noting the contradictions in these two life plans, the soul uplift of helping the Kid at Lou Powell’s gym versus coolly abetting J.J.’s slick, savvy operation, Bud perceives the future to be one of renewal. He believes especially through J.J. that he will redeem himself, his financial position and his inner well being as he returns to the former glories he once knew.
The dawning revelation that Bud has made a Faustian bargain with J.J. unwinds discretely and subtly. In the shadowed settings and blue-black dark glimmers of Bud’s kitchen and J.J.’s place, we realize too late something is awry. By the time Bud picks up the news in the light of day, he has been snared by the scary, crazy Roberto (Yul Vazquez), who is charming, funny and deadly candid. Bud is left floating between the ethers of indecision until the inner beauty of who he is emerges and confronts what must be done.
The cast does a splendid, taut job with superbly credible performances all around. Perhaps Crudup, fresh from Broadway’s Waiting for Godot and No Man’s Land is the most noteworthy and versatile. Buschel’s dark symbols reflected in his stylistic design choices and his alterations between dark and light, the obscure and the real, are clear and relevant. His themes about making the right choices, acting with honor and integrity and rising above the pull of what destroys the soul are uplifting and hard hitting against this backdrop of fighting, losing, falling and finding a hard redemption.
In Glass Chin, how Buschel arranges for the good guys to win though the bets are stacked against them is uplifting. However, it is not obvious. This is what makes Glass Chin a standout.[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=B00079HZUM,B00007ELES]