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Review: Noah Buschel’s ‘Glass Chin,’ an Updated Working-Class Noir


“ ‘Ordinary’ is our enemy,” J. J., a loan shark/restaurateur/art investor/monologuist in a sharkskin-gray suit and skinny tie, says to the former boxer he torments in “Glass Chin.” That could be the filmmaking motto of the writer and director Noah Buschel in his latest movie-mad feature, replete with hyperstylized shots, philosophizing speeches and no-way-out plotting.

The pugilist, Bud (Corey Stoll), has a couple of jobs: coaching a young fighter at a gym and helping J. J. (Billy Crudup), a Manhattan gangster, and his collector, Roberto (Yul Vazquez), lean on debtors. At home back in New Jersey, Bud bickers with his trusty girlfriend, Ellen (Marin Ireland), but his unpredictable new hours (and his belatedly explained loyalty to J. J.) take a toll.

Mr. Buschel sets up an intriguing collision between Bud’s fatalistic spiral and his what’s-a-matta-with-you relationship with Ellen, like an updated working-class noir. There’s also an incongruous filmmaking scheme of long takes, deep and wide framing, and head-on compositions for conversations.

But despite an appealing fondness for New York locations and habits, Mr. Buschel and his cinematographer, Ryan Samul, have embalmed their film in style. J. J.’s ostentatious speeches feel like a projection of self-conscious cleverness, and the film’s virtuoso lighting doesn’t always match up to the needs of a scene. (At one point, Bud and a friend even swerve to walk by a motion-sensitive lamp, which, niftily, clicks on and blazes in the center of the screen.)

As Ellen, Ms. Ireland (who brightened Mr. Buschel’s “Sparrows Dance”) gives the story its truest moment near the end, but the rest of the film feels designed to within an inch of its life.