I can’t even sit still long enough to watch golf on TV. I’m the kid who struggled to stay seated long enough to practice piano. I assumed that a movie about a chess player would not enjoyable to me. However, I found Pawn Sacrifice to be fascinating. The filmmakers have created an exploration deep into the psyche of one of the most unusual personalities of our time.
Bobby Fischer was an eccentric and gifted hero/anti-hero of the 20th century. He was drawn into the limelight as a representative of capitalism during the Cold War between the U.S. and Communist Russia. In a sense, one of the greatest chess matches of all time, between the young American Bobby Fischer and the Russian Boris Spasskey, was set up by politicians on the international stage as a symbol of the Cold War. Probably this event separated Bobby even further from reality than his troubled mind had done already.
The paranoia and borderline psychosis, and possibly schizophrenia or Asperger’s syndrome, which lie beneath Bobby’s personality are conveyed admirably by Tobey Maguire, in his finest work yet. Liev Schreiber is very believable and speaks excellent Russian, as Bobby’s Soviet opponent Boris Spasskey. Peter Sarsgaard excels as the very secular priest who is Bobby’s coach and confidant. He tries with futility to keep Bobby grounded enough to play chess. It becomes obvious that the extreme mental discipline of chess is in fact the only thing that can keep Bobby even remotely in touch with reality. However, as he wins more and more championships and becomes a celebrity, he grows more unhinged.
It took many years for Stephen Knight’s screenplay to be realized as a film. Originally David Fincher was to direct. In the end, the chosen director was Ed Zwick, who did a great job juxtaposing historical film with the surprisingly intimate stages of the chess championship games. Zwick manages to keep the height of tension going in this cerebral film, with the help of editor Stephen Rosenblum and cinematographer Bradford Young. Young captures the eyes beautifully in his close-ups and the lonely landscape of Iceland in his establishing shots. We actually come to care about this tragic and troubled figure. Bobby died alone in Iceland in 2008 at the age of 64, his U.S. Passport having been revoked for anti-American and anti-Semitic public comments.
Everyone’s brain is wired uniquely. Here is a man who was extremely intelligent, who was exquisitely unique, and rose to the top of his skill set – possibly the greatest chess player who ever lived. This film explores the mind and the life experience that made Bobby great.
Final thought: We all use prejudice in sizing up others depending on their place in society; how they look, how they dress. We should work hard on losing that tendency as much as possible. What’s the difference between Bobby the tortured brilliant champion and the demented but eloquent homeless man outside Dunkin Donuts? Not much, as it turns out. Bobby Fischer was once arrested for vagrancy.
Kathryn Whitney Boole was drawn into the entertainment industry as a kid and never left. It has been the backdrop for many awesome adventures with crazy creative people. She now works as a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. firstname.lastname@example.org.For previously published reviews see https://kwboole.wordpress.com.
Rated PG-13, Run time:114 Minutes