Pawn Sacrifice (2014)
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Regina takes Bobby to Carmine Nigro (Conrad Pia) a teacher who greets Bobby by telling him that chess is a religion that takes anyone regardless of nation or creed. One hopes that this kindly man will serve as a ray of light in Bobby's life, but Bobby behaves as if he is autistic. He makes little eye contact and focuses only on the board, shutting out his opponent and his mother and sister who must stand and watch as he spends hours on his first chess match with a near master. Once young Bobby loses to Nigro, he refuses to shake hands, cries silently, and icily demands another game.
The real Bobby Fischer was noticeably tall and slim with very striking facial features: piercing eyes, prominent nose, large, curved lips and a sprinkling of facial moles. Tobey Maguire is short and slight, with refined features, darker hair and no moles. Fischer was from Brooklyn and he lacked a formal education. He dropped out of high school. He talked like an uneducated Brooklynite who happens to be a headline-making genius; he had a lot of attitude. Maguire is from California and he never really captures Fischer's unique voice or inflection.
The film picks up with the arrival of three characters played by brilliant actors: Michael Stahlbarg as Paul Marshall, a sort of fixer / hand-holder, Peter Sarsgaard as Father William Lombardy, a chess master, and Liev Schreiber as Boris Spassky. These three actors are superb, and each has a moment on screen that absolutely took my breath away.
Marshall is a long suffering lawyer who prods Fischer to go to Iceland to take on Boris Spassky and become the new world champion. Lombardy is the closest thing Fischer has to a friend. He serves as Fischer's second.
Bobby tears apart hotel rooms seeking hidden microphones; perhaps the Russians, the CIA, or the conspiratorial Jews are spying on him. Bobby runs from journalists' cameras and the fans who want to grab and kiss him. Bobby cracks when he hears spectators cough or when he can smell their breath. He demands more money, special chairs, different rooms, quieter cameras. Though Jewish, he listens to tapes that convince him that Jews are evil people taking over the world.
All this is really hard to watch. It's especially hard to watch for anyone who remembers the Fischer-Spassky match. Bobby Fischer was an incredibly gifted man. He was world famous. After his match, he could have made millions and enjoyed a cushioned retirement. Instead he trusted the wrong people, became a raving lunatic Jewish anti- Semite and a member of a cult he would later denounce, denounced America, cheered 9-11, spat on documents, broke laws, became an exile, and, after refusing necessary medical treatment, died entirely too young and unnecessarily. His ironic, poignant last words, they say, were, "Nothing is as healing as human touch."
You can't watch this movie and not wish that somebody had done something to help this man. You can't not wonder, what was wrong with him? Was it the bad relationship with his mother? His lack of a father? His illegitimacy? Was he schizophrenic or autistic? Or is that he was treated like a star and did not receive, from others, the kind of feedback that forms character? A combination of all of these factors? Because Bobby Fischer is a commodity, even in death, we will never know.
In the film, Paul Marshall, the more practical and earthbound of Bobby's advisors, suggests taking him to a psychiatrist. Father Lombardy responds that chess is a rabbit hole. He mentions the hundreds of millions of moves that chess masters must take into consideration. He says that taking Bobby to a psychiatrist would be like pouring concrete down a holy well. The implication is that Bobby's chess genius is inextricably tied to his mental illness.
Lombardy cites Paul Morphy, a chess genius who could not succeed at conventional life. But look at Boris Spassky. He is still alive and no one suggests that he is mentally ill. Maybe a mentally healthy Bobby would have been an even better chess player.
Liev Schreiber, in the commentary, says that chess masters must constantly predict their opponent's attacks, and that doing so contributes to paranoia. Perhaps so.
Although I found the film hard to watch, the performances by the leads were so profoundly rewarding that they lifted me up in awe and made me cry. I don't know how Liev Schreiber did it, but he perfectly channeled a Soviet man from the 70s. I know because I was there in the 70s. Michael Stahlberg utterly inhabits his part, a chain smoking, sweaty palmed, tireless enabler who takes every abuse from Bobby and never stops trying to push him forward. Peter Sarsgaard is just simply superb, in every scene, from praying the rosary on his knees to the moment when dawn breaks on his face as Bobby starts winning. Tobey Maguire has a moment that is so powerful it gave me chills. He is beating Spassky. He is in his element. It is his bliss. See the movie for that moment, one I watched over and over again.
This is based on the real life of chess legend Bobby Fischer who after he became world champion, he lived a secluded, solitary life possibly because of a mental illness which made him paranoid.
I am not a fan of Tobey Maguire (poor choice for Spiderman IMO) but he gives a convincing performance in this. His tantrums and his stares as he is building irrational thoughts about conspiracies and imaginable dangers are s strong plus to the film.
The pace of the film is also good and the music by the veteran James Newton Howard follows the emotions with grace.
If you are clueless about who Bobby Fischer was, then you will probably like this film, because you won't roll your eyes at all the chess clichés, you won't get bored at being shown the obvious things about Fischer (such as the details around the 1972 Reykjavik match), and you will probably enjoy the novelty of the whole thing.
But who are we kidding? This event happened 44 years ago. If you don't know about it by now, you are either very young or you live under a rock. The film did not really try and show any INSIGHT into Fischer; it just replayed the same record that anyone who knows ANYTHING about Fischer already knew. But even then, they took liberties that were not only inaccurate, but unnecessary and just distracting.
First of all, Bobby Fischer was a man from BROOKLYN. Everything about the way this guy walked and talked showed he was a city kid, a real NEW YAWKAH. Did you get that sense from Tobey's impression? I didn't. Tobey didn't really sound all that Brooklyn-ish. In the famous Cavett interview, the real Fischer bragged, but he did it in a way that was a bit endearing. Tobey instead made him sound like an ass.
Second, Fischer was tall and lanky, and even gaunt-looking because of that, yet Tobey was short and puffy-faced. Bad casting. Alexander Saarsgaard (not Peter, as in the movie!) would have been a much better casting choice.
Third, Spassky was a consummate gentleman. He never spoke to Fischer like that during a game, or flipped over chairs to inspect them, and I didn't buy the hotel room tantrum, which was really a transparent device to make it appear that even Spassky was sick of the Soviet control.
Fourth, Fischer received a cheap plastic set when he was younger and used to play a lot with his sister, and then IN THE CLOSET. Instead they show him sitting on the bed with a very nice wooden set, and the next thing you know, he's beating strong club players. The entire youth of Bobby Fischer was quickly skimmed over, although I did very much like the part about the Russian mother, although I have a hard time believing they were self-professed Jews, esp. with the rather sloppy behavior of the mother.
Fifth, his second Lombardy, although he was a former priest, did not go around wearing his priest outfit, esp. to Reykjavik.
Sixth, to say game 6 was the "greatest chess game ever played" is quite pretentious! I can think of a particular Marshall game which is more exciting and filled with more nuance.
Seventh, I don't buy Fischer losing his virginity to some hottie in the hotel; they could at least have made him more charming if they're going to embellish like that.
Finally, and this is most important--Fischer's mental demise was not really that pronounced at Reykjavik. Yes, he complained and was a prima donna, and suspected the Russians of cheating. But he didn't go full-bore on the Jews and the Zionist conspiracy thing until years later. The film was not ambitious enough to explore possibly WHY Fischer turned into a loon; it was complacent and even eager to just SHOW his looniness.
The acting was decent. And the whole story--framing it as a cold war battle between the US and Soviet Russia, was fitting, but easy--esp. when they simply interspliced a lot of period footage and music between the scenes.
Avoid if you already know about Fischer's story and are a chess player!
This flick takes place during the cold war, where America legend Bobby Fischer finds himself in the middle of a political crisis between America and the Soviet Empire. The movie starts out by showing Bobby Fischer( played by Tobey Maguire) towards the beginning of his life, and portrays the struggles he endured which affected him later on in his life. The movie later shows him as a rising chess star and before you know it, he is an adult; and one of the best chess players in the world. He soon finds himself as a pawn in Americas Cold War, and has to take on the number one chess player in the world, Boris Spassky.
This movie is brilliantly directed (Edward Zwick), and gives you an emotional feel for Fischer, and the cinematography is excellent. The supporting cast was good, but Tobey Mcguire stole the show,giving one of the best performances of the year.
Pawn Sacrifice is an engaging and well-made biopic with solid performances.
Director Ed Zwick is the man who gave us "Glory," "The Last Samurai," "Defiance," basically movies that have epic battlefield sequences, so it's interesting that his battlefield has been scaled down to the size of a chessboard but it's just as colossal, this is a story back in the era when the whole world was watching which of the two ideologies, United States or the Soviets would ultimately win, tension was running high but instead of bullets or nuclear weapons which both regions did have, it all came down to between Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) and Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) and even if the movie may or may not want to preach about which is the ultimate victor, it did capture the animosity in the air, so sharp it can cut through glass, the hatred against communism at the time.
Written by Steven Knight, who gave us "Eastern Promises," and "Locke," I think Knight gives in to Hollywood's long-held fascination with brilliance and madness, it's a lot like "A Beautiful Mind," where a person is so brilliant that his mind just snaps. Now, I didn't grow up knowing a lot about Bobby Fischer, my dad taught me how to play chess when I was a kid, but I was terrible at it, which is why I turned to soccer. My point is, I don't know how out of touch Fischer really was, and this movie itself is not a straight adaptation, but I think PAWN SACRIFICE accomplishes what it set out to do from the start, this correlation between genius and paranoia or insanity.
Mad props to actors Tobey Maguire and Liev Schreiber who, under the direction of Ed Zwick, successfully manage to dramatize the game of chess. Because chess matches are usually silent, so everything heavily relies on the actors' facial expressions, it's all in the eyes and the body language in order to understand the game's intensity. The movie has to also entertain those who may not play chess and so it does, and it's a testament to the amazing performances by Maguire and Schreiber.The movie also brings up a good point that I think would leave the audiences conflicted. Because we would feel like Bobby Fischer would need medical treatment, but a part of us also don't want to hinder or get in the way of brilliance, out of selfish reasons of course, because we would want that brilliance to work in our favor. We badly want to see the master play but at what cost.
This is the highly fictionalized story of Bobby Fischer, a chess fanatic and genius who rose to the very top of his field. He was part of a Russia vs. U.S. superiority struggle when he played Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber), the world champion back then, in the '70s. It's unlikely he understood that; he didn't have a broad or worldly focus. The chess was all he cared about, that and money.
Biopics sometimes take a lot of liberties. Characters are made up, time is shortened, incidents are moved around, elements are put in for dramatic emphasis. That's why you can't take a biographical film as factual. It's better if you become interested in the person and read about him, as I did about Fischer, though I remember him.
Toby Maguire does a fantastic job as Fischer. Yes, Fischer was tall and Maguire is short. Frankly I wasn't made aware of Maguire's height while watching the film.
I believe the filmmakers were trying to give us a psychological story -- a complete genius with an IQ of 181 but one who also had mental problems. Lots of so-called geniuses are strange, I suppose, but Fischer was a real study in opposites.
He often made unreasonable, last-minute demands, made anti-Semite remarks, and accused the Russians of colluding against him. In the second game of his world championship against Spassky, he didn't show up. Nevertheless, his achievements in chess were remarkable, and many consider him the greatest chess player who ever lived.
His later life was a mess; he became reclusive; his passport was revoked and finally, Iceland took him in. By then he was off the wall completely.
Edward Zwick directed this film with a lot of zip and made it an intense and absorbing experience, as did the actors.
Look at this as the psychological story of a phenomenal talent whose emotional/mental problems interfered with his life and career. Don't take it as the detailed life of Bobby Fischer, his relationship with his mother, and who taught him what. The most interesting thing about him was his incredible talent.
Yet with "Pawn Sacrifice," we get the sense that that Director Edward Zwick, the three screenwriters, and the producers are not really interested in learning anything about chess – despite the fact that this movie was about the only American to become World Chess Champion, Bobby Fischer. Instead, "Pawn Sacrifice" is solely a character study on Bobby Fischer (played quite well by Tobey Maguire) with his personality quirks and bad temper, but divorced from his chess. For instance, there are a few scenes where Bobby Fischer defeated Soviet grandmaster Ivanov. Ivanov then withdraws from the tournament by claiming that he came down with influenza. Fair enough, but how was Fischer able to defeat Ivanov? And what made Fischer's chess victory any different from the victories which other grandmasters had over Ivanov? The film does not answer these questions, because it does not even bother to take the time to explain the chess game to us. I also have the same complaint about Fischer's victory over Victor Korchnoi. Korchnoi was a master at defence and counterattack and one of the strongest grandmasters in the world by the late 1960s. So how was Fischer able to beat him? Again, this question goes unanswered, probably because the filmmakers and producers assumed that the game of chess was too boring to be worth explaining to anyone or they were not particularly interested in Fischer's unique genius for chess, which inspired a future generation of Soviet chess players like Garry Kasparov. Yet if they really felt like this, why make a movie about Fischer at all? The reason why neglecting to explain Fischer's chess games is such a big flaw is two-fold. To begin with, Fischer's brand of chess is what made him so unique and extraordinary -- not his moods or his wild conspiracy theories. Yet judging from the film, I do not yet see how Fischer's chess was any different from Soviet grandmaster Ivanov's. Second, Fischer sacrificed everything, including his sanity, to achieve a mastery over his unique craft which no one else had. So shouldn't we get a clear idea of how challenging professional chess is? Should we not be given a clear idea of the hurdles Fischer had to overcome in order to become world champion? And also why achieving this level of mastery over chess was so important that Fischer was willing to sacrifice as much as he did? These are also questions that this film has not addressed.
"Pawn Sacrifice" does have its strengths. All the performances are pretty solid, especially Tobey Maguire's as Bobby Fischer. We get to understand this man's inner demons, his intense sensitivity to noises and lights, his paranoia and anti-Semitism, and his eccentricities. These aspects of Fischer are of some interest to us, since they foreshadow his eventual and tragic psychological breakdown. Yet "Pawn Sacrifice" can hardly be considered a great film, largely because the filmmakers seem as clueless about Fischer's chess genius (which I assume is a hugely important component of the film) as the young woman who took away his virginity in California.
Couple of comments: when I herd earlier this year that a movie was being made about the life and times of Bobby Fischer, and that it was directed by none other than Edward Zwick (the director of "Glory" and "Defiance", among others), I was pretty excited about it. Alas, it was not to be. What I thought would be a bio-pick on Fischer's life, turns out to be a very selective look instead. The movie's focus is clearly, and almost to the exclusion of everything else, on the 1972 World Championship against Boris Spassky. Yes, we do get a few glimpses of the younger Fischer. Fischer's mental problems do not get examined in-depth but are dealt with hastily. "Bob has problems" comments Father Lombarty, to which someone responds "So did Mozart", and end of story. Most disappointing for me was that the film essentially stops with Fischer's win in 1972. The remaining 36 years of his life, which remain clouded in mystery for a good part, are dismissed in about 2 minutes at the end of the movie. The leading acting performances, with Tobey Maguire as Bobby Fischer and Liev Schreiber as Boris Spassky, are quite good, but keep your eye out as well for up-and-coming Canadian actress Évelyne Brochu in the role of Donna, Fischer's very first girlfriend (when he already was in his 20s). If you are interested in a more in-depth look at the life and times of Bobby Fischer, I'd readily recommend the excellent 2011 documentary "Bobby Fischer Against The World".
"Pawn Sacrifice" opened this weekend on five screens for all of Greater Cincinnati. I was eager to see it. The matinée screening where I saw this at today turned out to be a private screening, as in: I literally was the only person in the theater. I can't imagine that this movie will stick around for more than a couple of weeks in the theater. I encourage you to check out "Pawn Sacrifice" for yourself, be it in the theater, on VOD or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusions.
This wonderful film is like the bumblebee. On paper it should not fly. In real life, it soars.
This film works and works atreat. Maybe not the greatest biopic ever but darn close.
It helps that the topic is a man who even those of us who "remember the era" barely knew or understood.
Maguire gives the performance of his life. If you use a stopwatch you will be astonished at how much of his performance is merely facial expressions in close up. And it works.
The rest of the cast is solid as a rock. Schreiber leaves Ray Donovan so far behind you would think this is a different actor. Sarsgaard, one of the most empathetic actors in the game, is the glue that keeps the film together.
Mesmerizing from beginning to end. Exceeds expectations.
And here is a tip.
According to media legend, after the Spassky match, Fischer did a 7 minute comedy bit on Bob Hope where he not only showed perfect timing but more importantly showed none of the eccentricities on which this script was based. Watching this clip just after seeing this film (from one of the many "tube" sites - Google it) is an unexpected bonus for being a child of the digital age.
Some reviewers pointed out some chessic type errors but there weren't that many and they were minor. Here's one they got right that may surprise some people. Notice that Fischer used the descriptive notation ("P-K4") while most other grandmasters even back in 1972 used algebraic notation ("e4"). And while there were chess clock on analyst boards where they serve no purpose at least the boards were set up right with the white square at the player's right hand, avoiding a common error in movies.
Probably the biggest error had nothing to do with chess but with the fact that Fischer's mental illness at the time of the Spassky match had not developed as much as the movie suggests. His personality was more rounded than displayed. He actually had a charming side. People liked him in spite his bad manners and selfishness. There's a YouTube video of him on TV with Bob Hope filmed sometime shortly after the match with Spassky that shows a very different Fischer than the one Maguire portrayed.
The bit with the girl (sarcastically she says to Fischer: "it was good for me too" as he studies a chess game in bed) was apparently director Edward Zwick's take on the nagging question of Fischer's sexuality, meaning yes he was heterosexual, but chess was just more interesting.
The real disappointment for me was that they did not make clear the really great triumphant of Fischer's preceding the championship match. He destroyed three of the top grandmasters en route to the title match, at one point winning 20 games in a row. Amazing. The greatest streak in grandmaster history. So he was a clear favorite although Spassky was the World Champion. That's why he wanted so much to win the first game and confirm immediately that he was clearly superior.
I was also disappointed that Fischer's life after winning the championship was not explored. I had hoped for a cinematic take on what happened to "The Wandering King" (the title of a book about his life by Hans Bohm and Kees Jongkind). Perhaps that material would be better presented in a documentary than in a popular flick.
Bottom line: worth seeing but not as good as I had hoped.
--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"
The Hollywood-tinted spectacles this film plops on the viewers faces fail to explain how Mr Fischer was used like a pawn himself before being cast into the darkness when his country was finished with him.
The film gave us a few tiny, weeny little clips right at the end to skip over the more important details of how he was treated after the Cold War.
He doesn't like chess, he is more interested in exposing the lies of the American Government.
He called out George Bush for being a lunatic and a law-breaker while passionately claiming all he wants is "the truth".
That doesn't sound like a raving madman to me, nor does being paranoid playing world championship chess against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Especially with a family from Russia.
The acting was fine, Spiderman and Wolverine's brother did well to keep their mutant abilities in check for some good chess.
I've given this movie 1 star primarily because it felt like Hollywood propaganda and a cowardly cop-out.
It should say "Based on a true story?"
This film has no tempo. From the moment the film begins, it is already swerving out of control, and unless the last 45 minutes of the movie somehow manages to regain a grasp on the cinematic wheel, never recovers. It begins with trying to draw viewers in to a realm of intrigue with Fischer and his family being watched by the federal government. Although this is an interesting facet of the Fischer story, it is completely ancillary to WHY they were being monitored by the FBI. The film just dumps you into their existence, being photographed and followed because of their supposed "communist sympathies" I invite all of my readers to familiarize yourselves with the Fischer story, especially Regina Fischer.
Also, the film makes it seem like Regina was supportive of Bobby's gifts, but she was nothing of the sort. She knew that Bobby was mentally troubled, and took him to many psychiatrists to help to end his obsessive attitude toward chess. It was very dramatic, and took a toll on the entire family. The portrayal in the film is absurd.
Another aspect of this film's multi-faceted deficit, is that it was technically, visually, and artistically bankrupt. The cuts were sloppy, and the dialogue was like watching molasses drip off the side of glacier. I didn't care about any of the characters. I was honestly so desperate for substance, that I wanted to know more about the bullet hustlers playing in central park.
So you get it. I thought the movie was awful. I think I will conclude with the most important reason that it was awful, and that is the portrayal of Bobby Fischer. Tobey Maguire was a terrible choice for the lead. He did not possess the capacity to represent Fischer's brilliance and madness. What you end up with is a Fischer who is a petulant child half the time, and a dopey deer in the headlights the other half. His mental illness is the tragic aspect of his brilliance, and that is one of the things that made his story so special. This film failed to tell that story.
The real Fischer is so interesting, so there was no need to reinvent a new person to tell the story.
Fischer had a father figure who was in his life, he just didn't know it was his actual father.
Fischer was interested in languages and learned them to read chess periodicals and was not one to go around saying "Speak American" to people.
The film has Fischer choosing to lose his virginity to a prostitute, picking the person, time and place. He's completely in control. Even though in this same film he can barely control his emotions. In real life he met a girl during the tournament and he got "caught up in women and sex" to the point where it cost him the tournament, the only tournament failure in his career.
Isn't that interesting enough to make a film out of it? Why change the story for change's sake?
Anyway, other than random script issues, which later become editing issues, the story is the weakest part of this film.
The rest is top notch. Production quality is high. Liev Schreiber, bravo, bravo, sir, on your Russian.
The film, overall, is a highly polished, professionally produced mediocre picture. There is no reason to see it again and it's difficult to recommend to anyone but serious chess or Fischer fans.
Turns out it was another cold war proxy fight in which the U.S. and Russia were trying to prove their inherent superiority. This was not Bobby Fischer's idea; he just wanted to be a chess champ. In the movie, he's fairly oblivious to the tides of history, at least until he gets caught up in paranoid theories.
This is a very interesting movie with a terrific performance by Tobey Maguire that manages to make chess riveting even if, like me, you have to real idea what's going on. The story it tells is clear and concise, as a mercurial Fischer descends into paranoia while those around him push him forward at any cost.
In fact, the story is a little too neat. The movie feels very much like the movie you'd expect to see if you remember Bobby's weird demands and celebrity. But usually life is a little more complicated than a movie. Reading about Fischer on wikipedia, I saw things that didn't fit in with the movie's view. For example, Fischer was unusually athletic for a chess player, working out regularly during the World Championship, and his love life went beyond hooking up with a prostitute; he later married, which is hard to imagine of Maguire's version.
Still, this is a fascinating, well paced movie that is constantly engaging. This is one of these movies, like All the President's Men, that has figured out how to bring intense drama to hard work and tedious thoroughness.
It also makes me wish I'd actually read some of those chess books my dad bought me; I always just sort of stumbled through without ever understanding the complexities of the game.
"Pawn Sacrifice" the masterful biopic of the bumpy life of highly controversial American chess prodigy Bobby Fisher did not cash in on any prizes at the Miskolc festival, but to me it was easily the highlight of the festival week. Okay, I came of age intellectually during the Bobby Fisher years, always admired his rebellious spirit and sheer brilliance, played a little chess myself. and can therefore relate to this picture from a personal perspective, but aside from that, this is a meticulously constructed docu-drama with an uncanny Oscar worthy performance by Toby McGuire as Fischer, most skillfully steered through the historical Cold War setting by veteran Hollywood director, Edward Zwick.
Above all Mcguire, who is rather short of stature and does not physically resemble the tall handsome Fischer in the least, nevertheless nails Fischer's complex fuming, unpredictable, mercurial character and personality so thoroughly that physical resemblance becomes a moot point as the story progresses. The film traces Fischer's life from a troubled childhood in Brooklyn (with outstanding juvenile roles) up through national celebrity as a young chess wizard, international political celebrity when he confronts Russian Chess grandmaster Boris Spassky at the height of the Cold War in Reykjavik in 1972, and finally, his decline into paranoid obscurity in his antisemitic anti-American later years.
The electrically charged chessboard battle of the titans in Iceland -- billed at the time as "The Match of the Century" and symbolically as a major superpower Cold War confrontation, is the centerpiece of the current film -- amazing that a series of chess games can be so action packed and full of suspense on screen -- kudos to Director Zwick.
The title of the film refers to a well known chess move in which one of the eight pawns is sacrificed to gain a temporary strategic advantage. In this case it is clearly meant to resonate with Bobby's own sacrifice on the alter of American "justice" when he defied a State Department ban on travel to Jugoslavia in 1992 to engage in a nostalgic rematch with Spassky. Fischer won the rematch in Belgrade but had his passport revoked and subsequently became a refugee from American Law for the rest of his life -- bouncing around incognito from country to country behind a full beard he had grown as a disguise.
For a time he took up refuge in Chigasaki, Japan, under the tutelage and protection of Go expert Waclaw Lukasiewicz, but was arrested by the Japs and threatened with deportation, until Iceland finally offered him asylum and full citizenship. By now, totally freaked out (never emotionally stable in the best of times) and Convinced that not only the CIA, but the Russian MVD and the international Jewish Conspiracy as well, were all out to get him, he constantly made vicious anti-American and vitriolic anti- semitic statements -- the latter in despite of (or because of) his own Jewish background. Fischer died alone in Reykjavik in 2008 at the age of 64 a raving maniac in a full white beard -- in the very city where he had reached the pinnacle of his fame 36 years before. In a detailed assessment of the film long term Fischer friend and associate Sam Sloan has pointed out a number of minor historical inconsistencies (exact names and dates and slightly variant chess moves) but was very moved by Mcguire's tremendous portrayal of Bobby the man and the overall quality of the picture, both as entertainment and a powerful document of a most intriguing and important American life, now all but forgotten.
Start with a superficial biography of Fischer, especially his early years. Try to give us no clues as to how his obsessive disorder developed, or how his paranoia slowly took over his persona. By doing that you leave us adrift, simply observers watching a "crazy" man do all kinds of self-defeating things.
Then ignore the game of chess. Treat it like it was any other competition. Don't delve into the intricacies of the game - its demands - the strategies that people develop - their characteristic approaches to the game. Just give us close ups of chess pieces and people thinking. That will surely dull us to sleep.
Now ignore the other central character in the drama so there is no one to root for. Not the crazy man nor the strong silent one.
This is a tragic waste of talent and a sad attempt to tell a truly fascinating story.
Director Edward Zwick (Glory, Blood Diamond) and writer Steven Knight (Locke, "Peaky Blinders") wisely focus the story on the infamous World Chess Championship match in 1972 between American Bobby Fischer and Russian Boris Spassky. This was 8 years prior to the "Miracle on Ice" when the USA Olympic hockey team upset the powerhouse Russian hockey team, but this chess match caused every bit as much media frenzy and national pride as that day in Lake Placid. This international attention is as important to the story as the psychological state of Bobby Fischer and his genius-level chess skill. And it's the media and citizenry reactions that provide the contemporary comparison to what we see too often these days thanks to social media icons are born, chewed up, and forgotten.
Tobey Maguire plays Fischer, and despite lacking the height and physical presence of the real chess champion, he expertly conveys the paranoia, fear, and arrogance that burdened the man and created even more suspense for those of us keeping a watchful eye at the time. Liev Schreiber ("Ray Donovan") plays Boris Spassky, and even speaks his lines in Russian. Schreiber captures the iciness for which the Russians were known, but also interjects subtle personality and insight in a story where his adversary is constantly over-the-top. Chess strategy isn't so much the story here, as are these two men from different worlds forced together on a stage in Iceland – with the full attention of the world.
Supporting work is varied, but exceptionally strong. Robin Weigert plays Bobby's mother, and we get glimpses of why he later suffered from Mommy issues – in no small part to her intimate gatherings of Communist friends. Lily Rabe is touching as Bobby's sister and possibly the only person who ever had his best interest at heart. However, the real intrigue comes in the form of Peter Sarsgaard as Father Bill Lombardy, and Michael Stuhlbarg as Paul Marshall. Lombardy was Fischer's coach and confidant, and seemed to be the only one who grasped the severity of Bobby's mental state. Marshall, a well known attorney in the Music industry, is a shady fellow who seems connected to the government, and is really the driving force behind getting Fischer to play Spassky. More background and the motivation for these two gentlemen would have been welcome and filled a gap.
The story of the tortured genius always makes entertaining fodder – think Van Gogh, Mozart, and John Nash. Bobby Fischer certainly fits that description, but his story is frustrating because we just don't understand the mental issues that caused him to evolve from teenage chess prodigy to World Champion to literal anti-social outcast spewing hateful words (watch the end credit film clips). This film is a worthy primer for the man and the times, and a reminder that we are always searching for the next hero the next person to hoist up on the pedestal, only to be replaced soon after with another, and then another. Perhaps the film says as much as about us as a people, as it does about Bobby Fischer as a person.
1. Genius-Mental Illness Link
2. The Cold War
3. World Championship Chess
The Movie, Unfortunately, does not Enlighten or Inform on Any of These Things. It just Shows them on the Screen. It's Superficial and Exploitative using the aforementioned as nothing more than Filling Space like a Cable News Channel with Talking Heads and Fancy Pictorials, that are Entertaining to a Point but Pointless in the Big Picture.
Pick 1 of those 3, Any 1, and Do Something with it, Anything.
Tobey Maguire as Bobby Fischer and Liev Schreiber as Boris Spassky go through the "Talking Points" of the Script with Professionalism and bring Their Acting Chops to the Proceedings and Proceed to Project Clichés and Go through Meaningless Moves, as does the Writer and Director. But the Underlying Motivations behind the Three Parts of the Story are Virtually Absent.
All of this is Nothing more than a Pedestrian Picture with very Little Interest and very little Heart other than Regurgitating Headlines and Culling Pop Chart Timelines.
A Major Disappointment, Uninspired, and Mundane Movie Making reduced to Claptrap.
Tobey Maguire gives one of his better efforts in recent memory, playing Bobby Fischer, a beloved chess player from the 1960's. Much like the film Miracle, this sports film deals with the political issues going on with the Soviets and Americans and integrates it into the films story organically. But Pawn Sacrifice does it to a much lesser extent especially considering most of the Soviet references are through Fischer's subconscious. Fischer is similar to Gene Hackman in The Conversation where he is constantly paranoid that people are watching and listening to everything he does. This revelation is the source of Maguire's performance and the depth that his character has. But once again, there was nothing that got me to care about what Fischer was going through, in fact, I was almost pulling for the Russians, and I don't think that was Zwick's intent.
Liev Schreiber plays Fischer's main competitor, Boris Spassky. Unfortunately he becomes underutilized as we only see glimpses of him before the final 35 minutes or so. That was another issue I had, is that the film takes a long time to really get going. For the first half, it seemed like most of the intriguing scenes were cut and then just explained right after. I'm not a chess guy, but we don't see him play chess for more than a few minutes until late in the film. It also didn't make much sense to me what his friends' use for coming along were other than keep him sane. We don't get a sense of their back- story or what traveling with a crazy man like Fischer gives them. So Pawn Sacrifice is really nothing special. It has a few wasted performances from Maguire and Schreiber and gives just a very average look at Bobby Fischer's life.
-Should I be rooting for the Russians?