Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993) Poster

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Brilliant intelligently sensitive drama
BadWebDiver6 August 2004
Let me start by saying I am not a person who goes for sentimental, "heart on your sleeve" type big dramas that seem to be the idol of most professional critics. In fact, to put it bluntly I totally loathe them. (I prefer movies that at least try to have a cohesive plot line with a reasonably accessible story idea and some decent tight pacing; ie: something that's both informative and fun. This is my interpretation of the classic idea of "a good story, well told".)

With that in mind, I wish to state that this movie (film, whatever) really does work, at all levels. It's a good intelligent story (apparently based on fact} about a very bright, very young kid who is discovered to be naturally good at chess and enters the serious national tournaments. During which time, there are raised issues of the concept of the winning ethos; and keeping (or losing) your humanity in the process.

This cast is magnificent here. The central leads are played by Joe Mantegna and Max Pomerance as the father and son respectively. Both give very well-balanced performances. Sensitive, without being sappy. Max in particular is very good, especially in the dramatic climax of the film; which he handles with total dignity. It could have been so over the top and patronizing in lesser hands, but this time it isn't.

They are ably supported by Laurence Fishburne and Ben Kingsley as two different types of coaches, from "opposite side of the tracks" (sorry for that old cliché). It may seem formulaic, but in this case the dramatic contrasts works surprisingly well, and both come over as intelligent representatives of their particular points of view. And there are also great character moments by David Paymer {QUIZ SHOW, MR Saturday NIGHT, etc} and Hal Scardino {THE Indian IN THE CUPBOARD} as well.

Over all, I would highly commend this film as the type of story that manages to tread the fine line between intelligent ideas and an entertaining story. I recommend it to everyone. Give it half a chance and it can work for you. It really is a great example of intelligently entertaining!
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Big movie, in a small package
Sneaky_Pete_XXVII2 December 2003
This is such a great film! And there is more than one reason why I believe this.

First of all, Ben Kingsley is one of my favorite actors. And this movie(along with "Sneakers", "Death and the Maiden", "Twelfth Night", and "Sexy Beast"), really helps me believe that. And I believe that this is one of his best characters, and best films.

As far as Max Pomeranc's acting is concerned...wonderful. Even today I can't think of a kid who's had a better performance. Truly good acting. And sadly for his short lived career, I'd have to say he was in his prime there.

The creativity in this film is awesome! My favorite scene is when Bruce(Kingsley) is teaching Josh(Pomerac) the dynamics of chess, and when the camera flips back and forth between the chess pieces, each time building up the conversation, and going up the ladder of significant pieces. Powerful scene, with powerful lessons.

I also enjoy that if you don't have much of an interest in chess, that it still keeps you capitvated. I wasn't as interested in chess until I saw this movie. And I'm even more interested in film (I thought that I couldn't be more interested).

And finally...the score. I love James Horner. And this is one of the reasons why. Along with "Sneakers", "Braveheart", and many other Horner scores, I find it makes the movie that much better.

Truly a movie to remember always.
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A life-changer
PeteBDawg5 November 2001
_Searching for Bobby Fischer_ is possessive of a certain wonderful insight; it is a film that offers no heart-warming premeses and still manages to ease the soul.

The characters dwell in an utterly contemporary world; you will find no neighbors hauling in bags of money, chiming churchbells, perfect families, or million-dollar smiles anywhere in the film. At the same time, this world of this film exhibits a resilience against its crueler realities that most of the art of the twentieth century eschewed in favor of probing the darkness of existence. Yes, the main characters are prosperous, but the spectre of Fischer hangs over the world as a daunting warning of things to come. The mood of the piece, enhanced by the excellent cinematography, sets the film up to succeed wonderfully, and the actors and text deliver.

One of the things I like the most about this movie, superficially, is that it does not insult the game of chess as it depicts it. The depiction of the chess world is insightful and accurate, from the sharp division between granite-hewn chess scholars and colorful tactical wizards to the truly unequaled awe and gravity accompanying the notion of the Grandmaster. Perhaps these are things that can only truly be appreciated by those who have ventured to this world, but, thankfully, the film integrates these elements seamlessly into a universal story that is original and poignant in its detail and elegance.

Every actor in this film is spectacular, without exception. That is a bold statement, but it is completely justified. At no point do any of the actors miss a step; all the performances are smooth and appear to be utterly effortless. In their featured roles, Ben Kingsley and Lawrence Fishburne put in performances that match in art, craft, and intensity, if not in length, any of their more prominent film roles. Joan Allen is mind-bogglingly wonderful, considering how precise she has to be to fit such a massive character into such a truncated part in the script. This is Joe Mantena's very finest performance, and, of course, this movie contains child acting to match any film ever made. Even the bit parts are acted with intensity, depth, and elegance. A lot of this is easy to miss because, on the surface, the film is so even-handed, but repeated viewings continually bring to attention wonderful nuances of these performances.

Any summary or synopsis will fail to accurately relate the "message" of this film; as in any great work of art, the quickest, most efficient way to word the resolution of the film's ideas and conflicts is to watch the film. This is where _Searching for Bobby Fischer_ really shines. There is no way these characters could have ended up where they are from any other sequence of events than the one that took place; this is a wonderful example of how a plot is woven into a story rather than imposed on it. The flipside of this is that there is extremely little to be found in this film that can be applied universally without reservation, and yet it still manages to be convincing. There is something mysterious about this movie that rises toward the staggering mysteries of life, and repeated viewings are really the only means toward a full understanding of these ideas.

Undoubtedly, this is the best film made in the 1990s based on a true story (if you, like me, discount _Schindler's List_ from such assessments. It hardly seems fair to compare _Schindler's List_ to any other film due to its unique purpose.). If you have not seen it, I highly recommend it. It may just change your life.
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Every Father Should Watch This Movie
marko21 December 1998
It's one of the toughest jobs a father faces--how hard should you push to "make a man" out of your young son.

"Searching for Bobby Fischer" offers a gentle and unexpected answer: You should listen for your son to tell you how "manly" he wants to be. Young Max Pomeranc is letter-perfect as the chess prodigy who refuses to become ruthless despite the prodding of his father and his surrogate-father. Joe Mantegna and Ben Kingsley give moving performances as men who can be convincingly converted to the truer, sweeter morality of a young child who doesn't need to be "tough" in order to be good. Watch for an understated, underrated performance by Joan Allen as the mom. A beautifully photographed, beautifully paced drama that should reduce anyone with more empathy than a statue to heartfelt tears.
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As near perfect as any movie I've seen.
aslan2317 March 2003
There are few movies I would call perfect in terms of script, photography, performance, and continuity. This is one of them. I have watched this film at least 8 times, and have seen something new in it every time.

This is based on a true story, and it is much more than a movie about parents demanding time, effort, and sacrifice of a child chess prodigy. This is about a seven-year-old boy who knows who he is, and resists adults attempts to make him into someone he is not. Max Pomeranc gives about the best performance I have ever seen by a child actor in the role of Joshua Waitzkin. Fortunately, Josh has a mother (played by Joan Allen) who recognizes Josh's innate goodness and protects him from those who want to change him. This movie is about a father (Joe Mangtegna) learning to respect and appreciate who his son is, instead of trying to make him into something he isn't.

I had seen the movie three times before I understood the title. The adults are searching for "the next Bobbie Fischer" (a television reporter in the film uses those words). Josh Waitzkin asserts to his teacher "I'm not him."

Watch this movie with your children!
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Zaillian's genius in "Searching for Bobby Fischer"
cheerskep28 February 2004
In SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER, Steven Zaillian's is the most complete and near-flawless film-work of the 1990s. I can't say merely "director's work" because he also wrote the screenplay. And (I have to presume) he chose Conrad Hall as d.p., James Horner for the music, Wayne Wahrman as film-editor, and he worked with a lighting director, sound director, set director and more -- each of whom did a job worthy of the highest praise. And the cast, the supernal cast -- many of whom have had larger and more celebrated roles, but none of whom has ever nailed a role more satisfyingly -- Kingsley, Mantegna, Allen, Fishburne -- even the smaller and cameo bits are effectively faultless -- by Linney, Stephens, Shalhoub, Pendleton. And of course, Pomeranc's work is a kind of miracle. Every part of it evokes from me applause for Zaillian's imagination, sensibility, knowledgeability, intelligence, judgment.

I confess I post this comment because none of the other comments I've seen on SEARCHING seems to me to realize how much Zaillian must have contributed to making this -- and I think it deserves this adjective -- GREAT movie. (I further confess I didn't first watch the movie until some three years after its debut because of its title. I was damned if I wanted to spend two hours in the presence of someone as nasty-seeming as Fischer. But the title of course was Fred Waitzkin's, the author of the source book. Fred, you cost me a few years -- but Steven Zaillian has made up for it many times over.)
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Nice warm film.
kennethjohnsen4 April 2005
For chessplayers and non-chessplayers alike, this is a secret gem of a movie.

Anyone who have watched Josh Waitzkin's tutorials in the Chessmaster computer-game will probably have done some research into who he is, and probably this movie will have popped up somewhere in your search.

For all of you who have found the movie that way: Go rent or buy it.

For all the rest: Go rent or buy it.

Why?: Cause it's not really about chess at all. It's a story about a 7 year old kid, taking a very keen interest in a hobby (and being VERY, VERY good at it), and also a story of his family and teachers pressuring him.

Besides a strong cast of people like Fishburn, Kingsley and Montegna, it also has some humorous moment (like the tuna-sandwich guy (William H. Macy)).

All in all, very watchable for everyone, and one of the first movies I've felt like commenting on here.

Only drawback: The link to Fischer was unnecessary, and doesn't add anything to the movie.
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Don't play against the board play against the man
sol3 July 2005
***SPOILERS*** The movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer" parallels the lives of Grand Chess Master Bobby Fischer with that of young seven year-old chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin, Max Pomeranc. The movie does it by inserting newsreel footage of Bobby winning the World Chess Championship Tournament in Reykjavik Iceland back in 1972 against the Soviet Unions Boris Spassky. It then jumps back to when Bobby Fischer was a young boy, and man, in the 1950's and 1960's as his obsession with chess brought him the fame and glory that he sought. Yet at the same time denied him the life of a normal boy growing up in post WWII America that his night and day chess fixation cost him.

Josh has lots of promise in becoming a future Bobby Fischer; he has a computer-like mind and a natural ability to foresee moves by his opponents, even before they even know that they'll make them. One thing that Josh doesn't have is that drive and determination, as well as killer-instinct, that Bobby Fisher had and as far as I know still does in playing to win and pulverizing his opponents into the ground by doing it.

Josh likes all kinds of sports, besides chess, and his dad Fred Waitzkin, Joe Mantegna, is a sports writer who takes Josh along to the Yankee and New York Mets baseball games where the young boy really has as much of a good time watching the ball games as he has playing chess. Fred realizes what a whiz his young son Josh is in the game of chess and wants to have him study the finer points of the game by hiring former national chess champion Bruce Pandolfini, Ben Kingsley, to tutor him and Bruce right away realizes that Josh has the makings of another Bobby Fischer. What does bother Bruce about Josh is his playing with the local chess hustlers like Winnie, Laurence Fishburn, in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. Which, in Bruce's opinion, is far to fast and doesn't give young Josh time to develop his all around concentration and understanding of the game of chess.

During the course of the movie Josh is driven relentlessly by Bruce in his attempt to mold him into another Bobby Fischer but Josh slowly starts to lose his interest in winning all the chess tournaments that he enters. The very fact of his invincibility makes Josh feel uneasy since it's always expected of him to win, like the sun is expected to rise in the morning, that there's no fun or excitement in it for him any more. Losing becomes more of a growing experience for Josh and even arouses his passions in making him feel more human. Josh is also too sensitive to beat down his opponents, like Bobby Fischer did. That later lost him the championship game against the likewise seven year-old chess phenomenon Jonathan Poe, Michael Nirenberg.

After his defeat to Jonathan Josh is looked on as if he let down all those who believed in him and at the same time he starts to get his life back together as a young boy living a normal life and not carrying the weight of the entire world of chess on his shoulders. It's during this time that the real talent that Josh had in playing chess comes up to the surface, without him being driven relentlessly by Bruce. Those untapped talents leads him to go back to playing chess, first with his friend at the park Winnie, and then working his way back in winning a number of tournaments to his becoming a top chess champion competitor. All that finally earns Josh a re-match with Jonathan for the Junior Chess Championship of the US in Chicago at the conclusion of the film.

Powerful movie and very intense for the young boys and girls in it in how they drive and push themselves to be the best at the game of chess and at the same time putting themselves in danger of sacrificing their one and only childhood to do it.

Josh Waitzkin did reach the top back then when the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer" was made in 1993 and is still there some ten years, and dozens of tournaments, later. He did it without losing both his childhood and his kind heart and sensitivity for his fellow man by doing it.
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making all the right moves
jimpludthura9 August 2003
One of the best things about "Searching for Bobby Fischer" is that it brilliantly captures the essence of the book it was based on. Fred Waitzkin's book is not just about chess but focuses much on the relationship between a father and his son. The film does exactly the same and the interaction between the actors is handled skilfully by its director. This is without doubt one of the best sports movies I have seen in a while, you feel an intense level of excitement throughout the chess games and there is a great blend of poignancy, humour and serious drama also at play. Ben Kingsley is fantastic as Bruce Pandolfini and his scenes with the young Max Pomeranc are a joy to watch. Max Pomeranc who plays Josh Waitzkin is perfect in the lead role and really shows he is the heart of the movie. Adapting books to films has never been an easy task but this one is probably one of the best adaptations I have ever seen.
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The thinking man's "Rocky".
gridoon3 August 2003
Chess is a challenging game that hasn't been given its due in the art of cinema, so it's a pity "Searching for Bobby Fischer", one of the few "chess movies" out there, offers an unconvincing, Hollywoodized treatment of the subject. This is one of those completely conventional, crowd-pleasing entertainments that make everything look too easy (it almost argues that one doesn't need to practice or study to become really good at something, as long as he has a natural gift for it; I'm sure the real Josh Waitzkin would dismiss all that as pure baloney), and rely on a predictable "Rocky"-type final showdown (in this case, against a mean-spirited little chess whiz). Nonetheless, with such a splendid cast (including an excellent performance by newcomer Max Pomeranc), it would be impossible for this film not to have its interesting and affecting moments. (**1/2)
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A great chess movie
falsecut31 March 2005
But also a great movie period. The characters are well developed and I think that the reactions of the parents and the chess playing kids is a great metaphor for sports in general. The one kid (Poe) is deprived of almost everything else but chess. It's not hard to see him ending up like the guys in the café, spending their time on nothing but chess, lost to life. The ending was a bit hokey, as even I, with my low chess skills, would have recognized what was going to happen with just the two pawns left on the board but it doesn't affect my enjoyment of the movie much. The interaction between Morgan and his dad and Josh and Morgan is great, and Josh's empathy for Morgan contains lessons in sportsmanship for any parent. You should see this movie.
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Another One Almost Everyone Likes....and Me, Too
ccthemovieman-118 March 2006
Here's another one of those family-type stories that almost everyone likes because you care about the main character so much. In this case, it's a young boy, played very well by Max Pomeranc. It's also based on a true story which makes you care even more and root harder for the nice kid.

The idea of pushy parents in kids' competition is fine but it's a little overworked here and you also get the normal PC angle in today's films where a black and white is concerned. In this film, it's Max's chess tutors. Those two teachers are the most interesting adults in here, but then again, where have you seen Ben Kingsley and Samuel L. Jackson NOT be entertaining?

Add Joe Mantegna and Joan Allen as the parents and you have a nice cast, along with an involving story and pretty nice photography. Interspersed in this story of a chess prodigy are film clips of the famous and very eccentric Bobby Fischer, whom the movie is named after. Young Pomeranc narrates those segments.

This was one of those truly solid "feel-good" movies of its year, which says a lot because 1993 produced an incredible amount of great pictures. This movie is pretty much guaranteed to get "thumbs up" from about any viewer.
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Zen Chess
tieman6424 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
"You've lost. You just don't know it yet." – Joshua Waitzkin

Bobby Fischer, regarded by some as the greatest chess player who ever lived, lost interest in the game several decades after becoming World Chess Champion. As Fischer grew as an artist – and chess is, in a sense, an art with its very own aesthetic – he began to outgrow the game entirely. He had discovered all there was to discover, mastering the board and finding no value within its black and white grid.

What's more, Fischer began to develop a feeling of profound disgust for the game. He now held his opponents in contempt, seeing them all as "inferior players" who possessed neither the skill nor artistry to beat him. By the time Fischer began contemplating quitting the game forever, the heyday of chess, when grandmasters were superstars and games were heavily promoted international events, was already long gone. Younger players began copying the moves of the masters and chess became a form of memorised routines and pre-rehearsed tactics. Chess, as an art, was dead.

For a while Fischer fought against the mechanization of chess (he even beat several chess super-computers), creating a variety of flamboyant and fresh tactics (even a series of new rules and objectives), but eventually he gave up. Having given himself to a cruel mistress whose 64 squares and 32 pieces had demanded complete and total loyalty, submission and sacrifice, he eventually decided to quit and move on to other things. Almost like a modern day Godard ("Cinema is dead! It is useless!"), he was an angry artist too big for a dead art-form. He had conquered it, achieved all he could, and found nothing of value in this victory. Over the following decades he would join religious cults, bounce from one confused romantic relationship to the next, always feeling miserable and unsatisfied. Seeking the sort of close human relationship that the cold confines of the chessboard could never offer, he reportedly died with the following words on his lips: "Nothing eases suffering like human touch."

"Searching for Bobby Fischer" is about real-life chess prodigy Joshua Waitzkin. At first glance it seems like your regular sports movie – Waitzkin fights various opponents until he faces and defeats Jonathan Poe, the current National Scholastic Champion – but it pushes past this to become a surprisingly dark film which seeks to find the value (if any) of art, the meaning (or lack thereof) of professional mastery, and the sinister truths which emerge when one considers the libidinal motivations behind any and all human actions.

The film begins with Waitzkin's father hiring a strict instructor, played by Ben Kingsley, to teach the young boy to be as aggressive and skillful as Bobby Fischer. Kingsley teaches the kid to hold his opponents in contempt, that there is no inherent value in victory and that one can only win by dominating another human being. Victory is simply the inferiority of your opponent combined with your own cult-like sacrifices made to the board. Mastery is intimately intertwined with the super-ego, victory tied with aggression, even sadism.

Realizing that such dedication is turning his son into a robot, Waitzkin's mother turns to Laurence Fishburne, a chess hustler who plays on park benches. Fishburne teachers Waitzkin's to be spontaneous, to play fast and trust his instincts, to love the game and be gracious to those he plays.

Eventually the film becomes a kind of battle between the id, ego and superego. Fishburne represents the pleasure principle, playing purely for pleasure in the moment, whilst Kingsley represents the reality principle, teaching Waitzkin's to put his life on hold and give himself over totally to the board so that he may reap the benefits of mastery 10 years down the line.

The film's surface message is that one must achieve a sort of balance, symbolised by Waitzkin's merging of both Fishburne's and Kingsley's tactics during the film's climactic showdown. After this, Waitzkin's begins to take up other games (football, baseball, karate etc) and tries not to let chess suffocate his life. Chess thus becomes a kind of spiritual guide, like a medieval craftsman's way of life, where one does what one loves and humbly does it to perfection, and then moves on to another craft. Waitzkin – still a young man – would then go on to write self-help books, in which he espouses the realisation that victory and mastery ultimately means less than the process of acquiring knowledge within different fields. Conquer yourself and move on. There is no opponent but that within.

But does this work? In real life, a decade after this film was made, Waitzkin would become a master in various other forms (karate, Tai Chi etc), before coming to the same kind of mental breakdown that Bobby Fischer did many years ago. He bounced from one craft to the next, mastering them all, but of course finding no inherent value in this mastery.

Beyond its dark implications, the film works well as conventional entertainment. Chess is perhaps the most cinematic of games and so each chess scene here oozes a kind of palatable tension. Most of the film's best moments involve both audience members and chess players thrilled at having spotting obscure and daring combinations that, five to ten moves down the road, will inflict upon our opponents utter ruination. It's cool stuff.

8.9/10 – Novice director Steven Zaillian is largely unaware of this film's true implications. Likewise, most viewers see the film as a conventional sports movie with a gooey Hallmark Channel aesthetic. But in a way, Zaillian's ignorance works in the film's favour. He's making your typical sports movie, looking for the orgasmic pay off of victory (and family reconciliation), whilst Waitzkin's father (who wrote the story) is telling a far darker tale. This tale has to be in the background, denied, ignored, or always indirectly addressed.
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All-time favorite film!
toobisbee5 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
"You wanna know a secret?...You're a much stronger player than I was at your age."

This last line of "Searching for Bobby Fischer" so eloquently defines for me the entire film. "Searching" has been accurately described as the "best sports film about a non-sport." Of course, the sports aspect is provided by the discovery of Josh Waitzkin's talent for chess early in the film, the development of this gift and its release in the grit of Washington Square and the many tournaments Josh inhabits throughout the film.

And yet...if there is a more self-less portrayal of a "sports" hero in a film, I have yet to see it. You see, unlike the title character, Josh is just an average, likable, sports-loving kid who happens to excel at rocket, chess. He loves his Mom & Dad, his friends and the homeless guys he meets everyday in the park, oblivious to their abuse of controlled substances. And he wants to be loved in return, just like any other seven-year-old.

So he strives for friendship, even among his chess-competing peers, and the love of the adults in his life. When you stop to think about it, this is really more about the ADULTS who learn to change and accept this "decent" boy (in his mother's words), rather than the boy who displays more maturity, sportsmanship and compassion than people more than three times his age! Of course, there's the obligatory "final championship" game, in which, to win, Josh must face his fears, personified in the evil chess boy, and Bobby Fischer wanna-be, Jonathan Poe. But by now, we realize this film is NOT all about winning and losing. And that brings me to the line I began this review with. As much as we rejoice with Josh in his victory, this actually pales in comparison with what he does in the final scene. Because Josh is now secure in is Dad's love and the respect and admiration of his chess teacher, he is free to show love and compassion to his best friend by cheering him up and saying something that is both poignant and hilarious, considering how close in age they are.

"Searching for Bobby Fischer" is the film by which I actually measure all other sports films. Would that they all handled the subjects of sportsmanship and love in so eloquent a manner. What a great movie!
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A perfect little gem of a movie [spoilers]
bandw28 March 2001
Warning: Spoilers
This movie tells the story (based on fact) of seven-year-old chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin. It follows him from the time his gift is discovered until he wins a national championship. You should not avoid this movie if you know nothing about chess - it touches on many themes of broad interest, such as: being a good parent, dealing with lost dreams, handling success, living with disappointment, being yourself when it conflicts with the desires of others, examining the value of a balanced life, and the nature of art. Also, you need not worry about any half hour waits between chess moves - much of the chess played is speed chess and the serious games are telescoped so as to keep the attention of anyone who does not measure the quality of movie by the number of car crashes and explosions.

Among the many delights in this film, perhaps the greatest is the astoundingly natural performance of Max Pomeranc as Josh. It has to rank as one of the best performances by a child actor. His performance is so sensitive, heart-renderingly touching, joyful, serious, and believable that it must in large part be the achievement of the director. No kid could be that good naturally.

The rest of the cast is excellent as well. Joe Mantegna plays Josh's sportswriter father Fred with a simple, but subtle, directness, and Joan Allen plays Josh's mother Bonnie with a gritty warmth and understanding. She is very much plugged into Josh's emotional needs. Fred and Bonnie are a typical couple sincerely coping with the challenges of raising a kid with an exceptional talent.

Fred enlists the retired grand master Bruce Pandolfini (Ben Kingsley in another fine role) as Josh's teacher. Bruce is a strict disciplinarian who sees in Josh a way to redeem the joy he lost when chess wizard Bobby Fischer decided to disappear after winning the world championship in 1972. In addition to Bruce's desires for Josh, Fred is pushing Josh as hard and as fast as he will go. Whereas these two strong-willed men have their own desires for Josh, in a pivotal scene with each man, the endearing and gentle Josh leads each of them to understand that, while they may have been searching for Bobby Fischer, who they most assuredly have found is Josh Waitzkin.

Most of us are fascinated by genius, by talent beyond what we can imagine. Using this fact, the screenplay heightens our interest by cleverly interweaving documentary footage of Bobby Fischer. If you can remember back to the early 70's, you will recall that this prima-donna's prima-donna had such an effect on U.S. culture that you saw people playing chess in every public venue. Hard to believe from the current vantage point.

On occasion the musical score gets out of control, being more appropriate for a big-screen western epic, but in many scenes sound is used as an effective punctuation mark. The close-up sound of chess clocks being struck and pieces being moved provide an aural metaphor for the battles being waged on the chess boards.

Conrad Hall was justifiably nominated for an Oscar for best cinematography for this film. Who would have imagined that you could generate such interest and excitement by filming chess pieces, chess boards, and chess halls.

There are many wonderful and moving scenes in this movie. For example, Josh's first encounter with the game when he sees a motley group of hustlers engaged in speed chess matches in Washington Park. Josh is immediately transfixed. If you have ever experienced anything like this in your life, this scene will give you chills. Or the scene where Bruce first meets Josh in Josh's bedroom. Bruce enters the room with the reverence a devout Catholic would have in meeting with the Pope. Gingerly stepping around Josh's toys (the sound track calling attention with squeaking floors), Bruce absorbs the room's environment with the pleasure of an oenophile drinking an exceptional wine. Such is the intoxicating attractive power of genius in some men's lives.

Movies don't get much better than this.
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Innocent Moves
JoeytheBrit13 September 2002
Movies about chess have, by their very nature, a limited audience; shunned by the multiplex crowds, it's fair to assume that makers of such movies with this topic may feel they have the freedom to relate a more cerebral tale, designed to appeal to the kind of person who is attracted to the game, although, of course, no movie about chess is really about chess – it's about the people who play the game. It's curious, therefore, that writer/director Steve Zaillian, drawing from the book by the father of the real-life Josh Waitzkin, chooses to dress this movie in the same clothes of virtually every other ‘sport' movie; that is, the tale of the driven loner who must overcome his inner doubts to achieve greatness.

Josh Waitzkin, adeptly portrayed by debutante Max Pomeranc, (who, incidentally, is also a ranked player) is an ordinary child with an amazing gift for chess. Inspired by the hustlers who play for money in Washington Square – especially an aggressive hustler called Vinnie (Fishburne), who wins by unnerving his opponents as much as he does by his skill at the game – Josh quickly rises through the ranks, supported by his father (Mantegna), who employs Bruce Pandolfini (Kingsley) to nurture the boys innate talent. The relationship between Pandolfini and the boy, although respectful, grows increasingly adversarial as the serious stuff begins and Josh's nerve begins to waver. Vinnie and Pandolfini represent opposite ends of the chess spectrum, each vying for Josh's loyalty

SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER is an entertaining, well-acted movie; its pace is leisurely but never flags, and it explores the relationships involved in the story intelligently, if a little shallowly at times (Josh's relationship with Vinnie – potentially the most interesting of the story – is especially under-written). Only Zaillian's decision to make Josh's youthful chess-playing nemesis a somewhat sinister figure (something along the lines of the single-browed baby who occasionally pops up in the Simpsons) is badly misjudged.

Zaillian seems conscious of the scarcity of a ready-made audience for this kind of tale, and strives to make chess something that it isn't – exciting – in an attempt to woo a larger audience. Thus, he allocates equal time to the high-speed duels of the ‘junkies and losers' at Washington Square as they capture pieces at breathtaking speed in their two-minute sprints as he does to the lengthier, and more sedate combat of the tournament player. However, even during the tournament games, he chooses to have his participants slam their pieces on the board and smack the timer with exaggerated force in an attempt to inject excitement.

The film is shot through with darkness, hinting at the essentially introspective nature of the game and its participants; many of the scenes take place in darkened rooms populated by shadowy figures hunched over their pieces, and the chess-playing fraternity is portrayed as a rather mean-spirited lot, populated by embittered and eccentric men. The enigmatic figure of Bobby Fischer serves as both an icon and a symbol of the consequence of the pressures genius bestows upon its owner.

The concluding match, it has to be said, is very effectively staged, managing to wring every ounce of emotion from a potentially dry situation, although, regrettably, the story ultimately succumbs to genre convention once the game is over.
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10 on a scale of 10
len tinman19 September 2001
I have given a 10 rating to less than 20 movies in my life. This, however, is one of them.

You could never hope to get a 10 out of a story about a kid wanting to play chess unless everything was perfect - and it was.

Amazingly, they were actually able to make it suspenseful, at times fast paced and I never even considered looking at the clock.

The acting was brilliant with Ben Kingsley, Joe Montegna and Laurence Fishburne all playing their roles to the limits of their considerable acting skills. Max Pomeranc, as the kid, was extraordinary too.

There is just so much to say, but the best thing about this movie is that it was truly inspiring. It was, after all, true. We learned a lot about dreams of children and their parents and their teachers. This process is going on in millions of lives everyday, but rarely do you get the opportunity to see it played out so completely.

I am a chess fan and it is possible that allows me to give it a 10 instead of, say a 9. But, even if you don't know what to call those "horsey things", you won't miss the outstanding drama and human dynamics in this wonderful film.
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Great movie, but given lie about ending, how much is really true?
imdb-1958628 April 2010
As the father of a child talented at chess (state champion), I really enjoyed watching SFBF. Great story, and great acting by Max Pomeranc.

So naturally, I wanted to learn more about Josh Waitzkin, and much to my disappointment I found that the ending was a complete lie. Yes, Josh did play for the US championship. But in reality Josh didn't win. When Josh was 9 years old, he had a draw against a 7-year old named Jeff Sarwer. And an analysis of the game shows that Jeff was clearly winning, but a mistake cost him, ending the game in a draw.

Jeff Sarwer is an interesting story. In real life, Pandolfini said that he had never met anyone else with such a raw talent for the game. But unlike Josh who grew up in a comfortable surroundings, Jeff really did play speed chess with the drug addicts. His father was considered abusive, and Jeff and his equally talented sister Julia were taken away from his father by protective services. But the kids ran away from a foster home, back to their father, and Jeff didn't play chess again for almost 20 years. And when he did, he beat a number of grandmasters despite having no apparent practice.

So far we know that the ending was a lie (thanks to the Internet making these games from 1985 available), and that Jeff played with the drug addicts. So what is really true?

My unfortunate conclusion is that Josh's dad saw that while his child was talented, he was nowhere close to Jeff Sarwer (by the way, Josh never made GrandMaster). But with Sarwer out of the way, why not make his son look good, and make Jeff look bad. What a travesty!
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Family movie disguised as chess movie.
gmoujik15 November 2011
If you're a chess player, you should know: I saw that there were some goofs regarding chess in this movie, but I didn't know that NONE OF THE CHESS RELATED SEQUENCES MADE SENSE. What's the point of making such a movie? How hard is it to get a chess adviser for the editing process. It doesn't have to be a GM. Any decent player would suffice. You could just go a block from the Washington sq. to a chess café and find someone who'd have time to help not to make this movie an embarrassment. Only good parts were documentary ones showing Bobby Fischer, and I would recommend to see "Bobby Fischer against the world" for a chess cinematic fix. Otherwise this family movie is pretty banal, and I wish, someone had written this review before I considered spending time watching this.
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Almost perfect sports movie
This movie, about a young boy who discovers he can play chess by just watching others play it in the park, follows a well known formula: young athlete with natural talent is discovered, quickly rises to fame, then finds seemingly unbeatable opponent and decides it is better to give up than to be beaten. Will he conquer his inner fears, come back and beat his opponent?

What makes this movie different is the fact that it is not about a hard hitting baseball player or boxer, but about a sweet, intelligent and sensitive kid with a beautiful mind.

The movie is very well made. For most of it, the director and great cast never miss a beat. All the characters are believable and multidimensional, the script is very well written and there are some very clever shots, all resulting in a wonderful, emotionally moving picture.

This could have been the perfect sports movie, but in the last part, where the final showdown takes place and everyone is rooting for the boy, it just goes slightly over the top. A small blemish, keeping me from voting this movie a 10 out of 10. It is still a solid 9, and for me by far the best sports movie ever made. As others have noted before, it also stands the test of time and bears repeated viewing.
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Superb film, based on a real chess prodigy.
TxMike18 November 2002
Watching "Searching for Bobby Fischer" again today, several years after my first viewing, I had forgotten how good a film it is. Based on a real modern day NYC chess prodigy, it's title is a take-off on 1972 world chess champion who was a child chess prodigy also. Chess fans, and teachers, are always on the lookout for the kid that shows promise to be the next Bobby Fischer. As soon as dad (Joe Montegna), and soon after a famous chess teacher (Ben Kingsley), figure out how good this 6-year-old Josh is, they seem to want to rush to teach him to be the hardened chess player, the intimidator they think is required to be a Bobby Fischer. But the kid is kind, he wants to be friendly, he doesn't want to "hate his opponent."

But his mother (Joan Allen) realizes that is wrong for Josh. At one point she threatens, "I'll take him away from you" if dad persisted in pressuring Josh to be a disciplined chess player. The teacher had forbid Josh from playing anymore speed chess with adults in the park, mom let him get back to it. A happy Josh once again took interest in chess, and began playing better than ever.

In the climax, Josh was playing the final game of a tournament against a kid he feared he couldn't beat. With renewed assurance that his parents and teacher loved him for who he was, and not for his chess, he played a relaxed game, but made a bad move. Josh was in danger of losing but, studying the board realized the 12-move sequence that would gain him the victory. He held out his hand, offering a draw, trying not to embarrass his opponent. They would share first place. His opponent was a bit indignant, refused, said "play." And Josh won the match.

There is a bit of cliche' in the story. The men are all aggressive, and the mom is the only one who understands the boy. But the film is so well done, and the message so faithful, I give it a very high rating. The DVD has a very nice picture for this age film, the sound is Dolby 5.1 but there isn't much surround sound.
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Paul Emmons18 November 1998
This is another film which I own on video and don't mind watching shamelessly again and again.

One very brief shot has always taken my breath away and will probably always do so as long as I breathe. It is supposedly in Chicago. It must be on the hallowed grounds of the University of Chicago. It occurs just after the first day of the critical national tournament. Dozens of children have scrimmaged over dozens of chessboards in a big room. This is a view from the balcony of the room-- a splendid Gothic great hall-- now deserted, but with many chessboards on many tables, all reset in serene meticulousness (presumably by adult minions) for the following day's climactic event. This one instant encapsulates-- as though it were preparations for a royal banquet-- the glory and majesty of what is taking place. It may not be heeded by the world at large-- but, thank God, it is at least still recognized by parties who have enough clout (and taste) to have custody over great Gothic halls: and what more should one wish for?

This film grapples with a very real (if all-too-rare) dilemma: how hard should a parent or other mentor push a child in the service of a discipline which is noble in the abstract? The ostensible subject here is chess, but it stands in for any game worth the candle.

As one critic observed, you can't take your eyes off of young Max Pomeranc anytime he is in view, and I wouldn't wish anyone to do so. But also watch his father. The brunt of this dilemma falls upon him. Make your own decision somewhere on the continuum of decisions facing him. And perhaps this insightful film will help you inform it.
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Should Be Required Viewing For All Teacher & Parents
spasek11 June 2016
Coaches, teachers, and parents of kids often make one of two errors in competitive activities:

1. They try to convince their kids that winning is the only thing that matters. 2. They instill in their kids a great fear of losing.

Josh Waitzkin is a young 7-year-old boy who enjoys playing the game of chess. He's also a very nice, sweet kid who never feels comfortable or even enjoys "beating" an opponent. He simply loves the game. When he first plays his father in a game of chess, he doesn't try his hardest. He's afraid of beating and hurting his father's feelings. This part of the film lays the foundation for the entire rest of the film. His mother has to tell him, "it's okay if you beat him. You won't hurt his feelings." Only then does Josh play at his best and wins.

Fred Waitzkin (Joe Mantegna) represents the first fear that I listed. He's an extremely supportive father who is very proud of his son. "He's better at this than anything that I will ever do in my whole life," he says of Josh. While his passion and support are strong, he falls into the trap of living vicariously through his son. Winning is the most important thing to him. When Josh loses a match to an "inferior" opponent, Fred is upset and can't understand why Josh lost. He doesn't realize that Josh loves his father and only wants to please him. It isn't until then that Fred realizes his mistake, and he finally encourages Josh to play for fun.

On the other side is Josh's chess teacher, Bruce (Ben Kingsley). He represents the second fear that I listed. He is afraid of Josh losing. Bruce is a man who is so scarred by his own losses that happened long ago, that he more or less "hides out" in an old chess room. At first, Fred Waitzkin has to talk him into taking his son as a student. While Bruce's demeanor is somewhat cold, it's obvious that he truly loves Josh, and can't bear the thought of Josh going through the pain of losing a match. It isn't until the end that he realizes that Josh is really in no danger of this, even if he did lose. Josh isn't greatly affected by either winning or losing. He only likes to play. But, Bruce tries to tell Josh that he needs to hold his opponents in contempt. That type of notion simply doesn't exist in Josh.

"Bobby Fischer held the whole world in contempt," says Bruce. Josh responds, "I'm not him." Josh already knows who he is, and he isn't trying to be the next Bobby Fischer, no matter how much everyone else wants him to be. He only wants to be himself.

There are two characters in this movie that already know Josh's heart, and they give him the positive values and support that Josh needs.

First, his mother (Joan Allen). She is so enamored by Josh's good heart, that at one point, she threatens her husband. "He's not weak. He's decent. And if you or Bruce or anyone else tries to beat that out of him, I swear to God I'll take him away."

Second, is his friend Vinnie (Laurence Fishburne), a man that Josh meets in Washington Square where Vinnie spends his time playing speed chess with other people who are mostly transients. Josh quickly makes friends with him, even though Bruce doesn't like it. But, Vinnie holds the wisdom of competition that Bruce fails to give to Josh. "You're playing not to lose, Josh. You have to risk losing. You have to play on the edge of defeat. That's where you want to be!"

I can't stress the performance of young Max Pomeranc (Josh Waitzkin) enough. He seems to know exactly who Josh is, and he plays him with a gentle sweetness that can't be ignored or overlooked. You see it in his eyes and facial expressions. He looks at his opponents not as enemies, but simply another kid sitting across from him who could easily be his friend. Josh has a well-balanced life. Chess isn't everything to him. He enjoys doing other things. Perhaps this is a testament to why his character is so strong. His opponent at the end, Jonathan Poe, thinks of only chess, and we quickly find that he is a very unhappy and miserable kid. He's the kind of player that Bruce tries to make Josh, and we are thankful that Josh never goes down that road.

Competition is so strong in our culture. Most parents, teachers, and coaches fall into these two fears without realizing it. We push and push, we forget that they are children, and that we need to stress the importance of having fun, being a good sportsman, and being gracious in victory and defeat. It's truly amazing to find that Josh Waitzkin already realized this at the tender age of 7. Hopefully, we can begin to pass these values on to our own kids.
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Drama about chess, life and staying true to oneself
Wuchak25 June 2015
Despite the title, "Searching for Bobby Fischer" (1993) isn't about the extraordinary chess champion, Bobby Fischer, but rather true-life chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin (played convincingly by Max Pomeranc). The story chronicles his rise to prominence as a 7-8 year-old in the world of chess competition. The eccentric and reclusive Fischer permeates the proceedings, however, as he's constantly referred to and there's even footage of him being interviewed or beating a dozen experts simultaneously, etc. Joe Mantegna and Joan Allen play Josh's father & mother while Ben Kingsley and Laurence Fishburne play his formal and informal teachers respectively.

I don't think you need to know about chess to enjoy this film, but it wouldn't hurt. It's primarily a drama and, secondarily, a sports film. Being about chess, it lacks the action of conventional sports films, but it's a sports film nevertheless with its inherent formula. Regardless, I was surprised at how suspenseful they made the final match, which isn't easy to do since chess doesn't seemingly lend itself to cinema.

This is a film that'll likely improve on repeat viewings because there are a few interesting subtexts. For instance, Josh's formal instructor and his dad keep trying to mold him into the likeness of Fischer and his misanthropic mindset, but Josh's mother and informal instructor encourage him to be who he is and play naturally. The former two foster rigid discipline and contemptible aggressiveness while the latter two encourage spontaneity and the joy of the game. Perhaps a balance between both is best.

Years ago I informally studied chess for a couple of years, reading books and manually performing all the moves, buying & playing computer sets, etc. but I'd only be considered average at best compared to the child players in the film. The reason I bring this up is because, as much as I knew on the topic at the time, I realized I merely touched the surface and that there were whole new realms to explore, learn and master. This is the way it is with any great sport/art/topic/occupation. To truly grasp any one of them and master it to any degree requires serious determination and great sacrifice. You can't be a jack of all trades and expect to be extraordinary in one.

The movie also seems to be saying that you shouldn't sacrifice everything else to be a chess master and lose the joy of playing, the joy of living. After all, what good is that? While this is true, it only goes so far and Waitzkin's life since the movie proves it: He wanted to do other things than be a chess champion, which is fine, but to do so he had to drop out of chess competition altogether, which he did in 1999. By contrast, Garry Kasparov is considered the most consistent chess champion, holding the record for the longest time as the No. 1 rated player in the world from 1986 to 2005 (two freakin' decades), precisely because of his skill, determination and sacrifices.

The movie inspires you to look up the incredible Fischer who reigned supreme in the 60s through early 70s and then dropped off the face of the earth. In 1981 he stayed with grandmaster Peter Biyiasas for four months where he beat Biyiasas seventeen times in speed chess. Biyiasas later testified in a Sports Illustrated interview: "He was too good. There was no use in playing him. It wasn't interesting. I was getting beaten, and it wasn't clear to me why. It wasn't like I made this mistake or that mistake. It was like I was being gradually outplayed, from the start. He wasn't taking any time to think. The most depressing thing about it is that I wasn't even getting out of the middle game to an endgame. I don't ever remember an endgame. Bobby honestly believes there is no one for him to play, no one worthy of him. I played him, and I can attest to that."

Bobby Fischer never viewed the film, but rightly complained that it was improper to use his name and footage of him without his permission. Fischer never received any compensation from the movie and said he was swindled.

Look for the beautiful Laura Linney in a bit part.

The film runs 109 minutes and was shot in New York City, including Washington Square (where numerous scenes take place), and Toronto.

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Alright Story, Great Performances
gavin694217 April 2015
A prepubescent chess prodigy refuses to harden himself in order to become a champion like the famous but unlikable Bobby Fischer.

While chess has never been my game, it is something I can probably identify with a bit better than basketball (see "Hoop Dreams"), so this fictionalized story of a real-life prodigy is a story I can get behind. Of course, it is not very cinematic to just show two hours of people playing chess. And that leads the film's flaw: the narrative is good, but not incredibly engaging. Also, if you just guessed the whole story, you probably guessed right.

But the performances make up for any shortcomings. Some really fine actors get to be supporting cast to this little guy. Ben Kingsley, Denzel Washington, Tony Shalhoub, and more. The young actor probably had no idea how cool it was to be working with these folks.
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