Knight Moves (1992)
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The story centres around chess player Peter Sanderson (Christophe Lambert) and his (possible) involvement in a string of serial killings. Due to his complete absorption in the game, he has already lost his wife and is now in danger of losing his daughter. Although he is the prime suspect, he becomes involved with a psychologist called in by the Police. This role was picked up by Christophe's (then) wife, Diane Lane, who not only coped well with the character, but also with a well-rehearsed bedroom scene. A case of 'truth being stranger than fiction'?
Like many of Christophe's films, this one relies heavily on explaining the psychology of the killer, even if it is only in laymen's terms; but it does deal with complex issues of responsibility and duress. The photography is a juxtaposition of European noir sur blanc and British thriller, with a little American 'home-grown' logic thrown in for good effect. Tom Skerritt is disappointing as the chief of police, a role that he plays woodenly. He is upstaged by his sidekick (Daniel Baldwin). Jeremy is portrayed by Ferdinand Mayne, an actor well known to film-going audiences, with over 120 roles to his credit before his death in 1998.
Although this film was not initially well received, its continued presence on the 'Pick of the week' shelf at the video store proves that it may well become a 'cult' film. It is often in the top-100-rentals slot in many countries and it seems to appeal to a diverse range of people. While some of the supporting cast need acting lessons, its camera work and well co-ordinated plot make this an original and enjoyable 'who-dunnit'...and you really will be guessing to the end.
Christopher Lambert as the chess master plays out his anguish well as the evidence pointing to him builds to the point where the police believe he did it. The slips of the tongue from Lambert also give the impression he 'could' be the killer... But is he? Diane Lane is good as usual, not a lot is asked of Tom Skerrit so he doesn't give a lot as the police chief. Baldwin is good as the prejudiced cop who takes a serious dislike to Lambert's character.
Worth watching the first time for your own pleasure. Watch it a second time with someone who hasn't seen it before to see their reactions to the mystery!
This is one of the most atmospheric detective thrillers of the 90 s . Despite a no-name director and a no-name writer `Knight Moves' proves that professional filmmaking can be achieved with the talented work of the proper technicians (direction of photography , scenery setting etc) and a well written intelligent script . The plot seems to be a combination of Seven (1995) and The Game (1997) . Seven is reminiscent not only script-wise but the dark , rainy and dreary atmosphere is inherent in the directorial look . Well how do you know ! Knight Moves is actually a predecessor to these movies ! ( I believe David Fincher owes a great thank you to this film ) Just because it doesnt have major star power doesnt mean it should be left unnoticed . Few people know the existence of this wonderful thriller and in my opinion it is not fair for this little gem to be forgotten or overlooked . It is probably Christopher Lambert s best movie and a setup for many other crime mysteries which followed in the decade . So if you like whodunits I can assure you that this is one of the best samples.
The cinematography is dark and moody and it helps giving an ominous air to the screen . The sets are perfect for the claustrophobic threatening tone even in scenes with large halls like where the tournament is being conducted . The music and sound effects are also successful and contribute quite nicely to the creepiness of the movie (like the thunders during the storm). Aside from the great direction the basis of the film is a great screenplay with enough plot twists to keep the viewer hooked to the premise . All these surprises build up the tension , leading to a heart pumping final 20 minutes period and deliver a superb climax which you will remember for a long long time . There is a negative point though : Knight Moves belongs to a strange category of films which should be viewed only once and then left with fond memories . This means that your second viewing may come as a great disappointment since you already know what will come . Another minor flaw is that the killer s motive is clear from the very first scene . It is however difficult finding the adult now psychopath and the shrewdness of the director is that he manipulates us to forget the initial scene and concentrate on the twists and the red herrings that the screenwriter has staged for us . It is a truly fascinating modernization of the Hitchcockian tradition as we enter a tunnel only to be `allowed' later to find the light that was always there.
The acting is for the most part passable . Lambert plays solidly and gives a legitimate hero as an everyday guy who gets caught in a paranoid game . He is not the gorgeous poster model or the beefed up tough man . Tom Skerritt plays one of the most wooden and mundane police officers I have ever seen in a film . He is always neutral and cool tempered without catchy gags or profanity . This may render his presence almost invisible , but I believe the realistic approach is achieved here , since most officers are quite indifferent and inert in reality . All they are willing to do is arrive at the scene AFTER the crime and take fingerprints . On the contrary Daniel Baldwin (the most obscure of the clan) is the younger and more aggressive detective and his performance is a pleasant surprise . He believes that Sanderson is actually himself the accomplice who wants to fool them out . He exhales so much anger against Lambert s character that at many points the two of them nearly duke it out with their fists . It is quite original for a movie of this kind since the detectives usually form a harmonic alliance with the lead (a la Copycat) . Baldwin s and Lambert s stormy chemistry chips in the building of more tension and nerve . Diane Lane is the psychologist who halfway forms a predictable affair with Sanderson . She and Lambert were married at the time and it is funny to see their chemistry transferred on the celluloid . Further than the obligatory love interest Lane performs another difficult task . She manages to survive an underwritten role and she gives the best performance of the entire cast . For once again she proves herself a dynamic personality who captures the audience s attention. At short periods she temporarily becomes the lead herself ! Another exhibit for her pivotal screen presence is `Judge Dredd' . Very few times indeed has Hollywood given us active female roles who are not decorative co stars . The actor who plays the killer appears shortly (a la Kevin Spacey in Seven or William McNamara in Copycat) but is also quite good. The phone calls he makes with a special voice changer , make him sound like a distorted pervert and will certainly send chills down your spinal column . This is the most scary aspect of the film which pulls up the agony even more . The paranoid is a very sinister person and his chilling voice enhances the demonic threat which suspends above the heads of the leads and every other person who attends the tournament .
It is worth purchasing this exceptional mystery game . It is not simply a popcorn light movie just for the amusement of it . On the contrary `Knight Moves' is a professionally constructed mind trap which has terrifically escalating suspense and an explosive finale . Rent it , see it preferably after midnight and don t forget to dim the lights . The final part of the movie will certainly leave you breathless . A small independent masterpiece `Knight Moves' deserves far more recognition than it has got . If you like crime puzzles this is one of the best you can find.
KNIGHT MOVES 8.5 / 10
We see the killer's black gloved hands; we see the flashlight shining in the darkened room of the next victim; we hear the killer's breathing through a mask. And in these scenes, absence of dialogue amplifies the surreal, menacing presence of the killer.
Suspense scenes alternate with scenes of mundane normalcy, which gives the viewer a chance to select the murderer from a pool of suspects whose behavior appear more or less normal. But beware; there are plenty of plot twists and false clues. The whodunit element kept me guessing and unsure; the film's suspense kept me fully engaged.
Acting quality is average. Diane Lane gives perhaps the most convincing performance of the bunch. My main criticism is the screenplay. In any murder mystery, the viewer needs enough information to have a fair chance at solving the whodunit puzzle. But in "Knight Moves", crucial details are left out. Also, several characters are poorly defined; we know almost nothing about them. Moreover, in several key scenes, the behavior of one of the main characters is not credible, given the story's underlying premise.
As a result, it's going to be almost impossible for the viewer to identify the killer, based solely on the plot. A script re-write, with more emphasis on character development, combined with the deletion of superfluous scenes would, I think, have made for a more satisfying whodunit puzzle.
Even so, I recommend "Knight Moves" as a most frightening and spine-tingling suspense thriller. For maximum effect, try watching it alone, in a mansion, at night with the lights turned out, during a thunderstorm.
PS: Try to guess the identity of the killer...
There are very few thrillers that would chose to set themselves in the world of grandmaster chess as the basis for their plot, and even fewer that would manage to pull it off convincingly; this film falls into the former but not the latter. The plot only really uses chess as the background so that it can make a rather tenuous link between that game and the game that is played between Sanderson and the killer. This basic plot is interesting enough even if it doesn't really stand out from the basic video-thriller genre that the chess connection suggests it is better than. The chess connection doesn't really work as it doesn't actually fit in with the murders very well feeling forced quite a lot; certainly the whole chess championship is just a side issue and the film never manages to actually convince that this is a battle of wits, in fact the police do most of the leg work and Peter only occasionally blurts out the odd 'Eureka in the bathtub' line.
The solution is semi-clever in that I realized that the film had tricked me from the first scene onwards, but, despite this fact, the identity of the killer is as out-of-the-blue and you would expect it to be. The film is littered with minor characters who jump out of shadows, appear at suspicious times or say menacing things under their breath, all red herrings of course but most of them are not explained and it is obvious the writer never thought about whether or not they made sense in any context other than them being red herrings. Having said that, the film is enjoyable but mainly as a genre film rather than anything clever or particularly inventive. The lack of a really clever cat'n'mouse game was a letdown for me because of the potential that the chess connection had suggested.
The cast are a fairly average mix that contribute to the feeling that this is a genre film rather than anything particularly clever. Lambert has had a very mixed career and this is just another strange role that he doesn't play that well certainly the words 'Lambert' and 'chess master' are words that words that don't seem to naturally appear together. Sticking with the clichés of both the genre and Lambert films, we get the obligatory love scene (twice!) that have little relevance but gives the film the added selling point of breasts! Skerrit and Baldwin are better than the rest of the cast even with poor characters the two of them control each scene they are in and make the film feel better than it is.
Overall, the title and background suggest a clever game of wits between a chess master and the killer but it doesn't manage to be anything more than an OK genre film. The twist is out of the blue as always but getting there is quite fun and the end result is a film that is enjoyable but quite unspectacular.
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Sound format: Dolby Stereo
Filmed on grim Canadian locations by German director Carl Schenkel (OUT OF ORDER), this curious psycho-thriller has the look and feel of an Italian giallo, despite the American setting. All the elements are in place: Christopher Lambert plays a chess grandmaster targeted by a serial killer who leaves obscure one-word messages at the scene of his/her crimes, hoping to draw Lambert into a lethal game of cat and mouse. That the murders are based on well-known chess manoeuvres should come as no surprise to seasoned thriller addicts, and nor should the killer's identity, which is betrayed by a seemingly throwaway bit of business near the beginning of the film (not a spoiler - only the truly attentive will spot it). Brad Mirman's convoluted script bends over backwards to cast suspicion on Lambert throughout (which means it *can't* be him - or can it?), but the narrative is undermined by some poorly-drawn characters, and everyone but Tom Skerritt - as the detective leading the investigation - seems to be coasting through proceedings on auto-pilot. The murders aren't explicitly detailed, and Schenkel goes out of his way to avoid crowd-pleasing exploitation, which rather curbs the film's commercial emphasis. But at least it's never dull, and the climax is reasonably proficient, complete with overwrought thunderstorm and psycho with a mommy complex! Daniel Baldwin exaggerates wildly as a macho cop determined to nail Lambert for the crimes, while Ferdinand Mayne hovers in the background, making the most of a glorified cameo as the hero's blind mentor.
The setting is very interesting, being a small tourist island in the fall as a background for a deadly chess tournament. The murder scenes are not that gory, but scary and breathtaking. The final showdown between Lambert and the villain is a rollercoaster ride with some nice twists and fight sequences. Watch out for this dark and fascinating serial killer movie.
IMDb says there's a factual error in one of his games. They say the problem is that there's a mate in 5, not a mate in 4. I don't agree. It's a mate in 5 for black (if played correctly by both sides, correctly meaning that white plays to avoid mate as long as possible.) The problem I see is that Lambert's coach suggests he can win with a mate in 5, and misses it. But Lambert is playing WHITE. His rook move to c2 is correct, but only in the sense that's the best move to delay an already lost game. The coach seems to imply HE can win the game, otherwise why say "he missed it"? But he can't win, his game is already lost.
Here is a sample line of the tense dialogue, delivered by Christopher 'The Method' Lambert: "I'm getting pretty close pal, and I'm gonna nail yo ass to the wall!".
It is rubbish this one, watch it for a laugh but it's pretty dull so that might be tricky. Still there's stuff to look out for.
1) Silly second guessing murderer/chess move plot. luckily the crime busting chess grandmaster Highlander is to the rescue. Cue lots of piffle about 'checkmate' and whatnot.
2) Whatever happened to Diane Lane? A very attractive woman indeed, however she is in a shockingly unsexy sex scene with Lambo, all silk curtains over a pristine four poster.
3) There's sundry other boring nonsense. And there's a bloke who looks like Tobey maguire in it but it might be TM, I didn't look so hard.
Not recommended, except ironically maybe.
None of the characters are likable, but man, they are predictable. The cops are complete morons who don't see a clue when it's right before their eyes. The shrink of cause falls in love with the suspect.
Possible Spoiler ahead (that is, if you've never seen a movie before...)
And don't mention the story. In the beginning, you find out why everything is happening. And it's really hard to wait so long for the "conclusion" if that's what you want to call it - you won't. Is it really that hard to figure that everything in the movie happens because of what happened years before? And while you're there, watch out how many male persons run around in the movie that fit that age and know about chess....
This is trying way too hard to make chess cool. I have no problem with yet another dark serial killer movie. Daniel Baldwin is over-acting. Christopher Lambert is not good. None of the clues get the audience involved. It's a whodunnit in which nobody really cares about.
It's very obvious that the person committing these killings has something very personal against Sanderson besides him being #1 in the world of American, as well as world, chess. Murdering as well as using young and beautiful women as chess pieces in this deadly and bizarre game of chess he's playing has his opponent Chess Grandmaster Sanderson become the #1 suspect in the murders that this lunatic is committing! That's the absurd an illogical conclusion that the towns two top "Keystone Kops", who very probably got their police badges out of a Crackerjacks box, Capt. Frank Sedman & Det. Andy Wagner, Tom Slerritt & Daniel Baldwin, come up with! Even though Sanderson as an alibi, in most cases Sedman & Wagner themselves, for where he was when the murders were committed!
Crime suspense thrillers just don't get any better then "Knight Moves" in just how in your face and brazen it is in manipulating its audience. We know right from the very start that Sanderson is innocent of the crimes that he's charged with yet were, as well as Sanderson, boxed into a corner where it's almost impossible, even if we were on a jury, to be sure beyond a reasonable doubt that he didn't commit them! In that Sanderson comes across so guilty looking, as well as acting, that you suspect that he somehow committed the murders not psychically but through some kind of, by being in two places at the same time, telepathic or OBE, out of the body, experience!
***SPOILER*** The killer leaves clues at the scenes of his crimes to what the real reasons-besides playing chess-for his murderous rampage is all abut that the smart as a whip, in being a Chess Grandmaster, Sanderson should have easily picked up. It's when all the pieces, or moves, finally fall into place it's not "smartly pants" Sanderson who finally figures who who this shadowy killer really is but it's the local police psychiatrist Kathy Sheppard, Dane Lane, who beats him to it! That leads to the grand final in the film as Sanderson and his opponent, the psycho killer, have it out with Sanderson's 10 year-old daughter Erica, Katharine Isabella, as the grand prize. In her being ritually murder with all her blood drained out, like all his other victims, by the psycho killer or rescued by her now wiser and smarter dad, in him finally getting it to who the killer is, Peter Sanderson!