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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Paranoid Chessmaster

Bobby Fischer is the subject of Tobey Maguire’s biopic on the late chess champion considered by many to be the greatest chess player of all time.  While ‘Pawn Sacrifice’ isn’t the first movie inspired by the oft-controversial chessmaster thanks to the 1993 coming-of-age story ‘Searching for Bobby Fischer,’ it is somewhat surprising that it took so long for a movie to focus on the man’s life.
 
Hollywood loves Cold War allegories, whether it’s the true story of an underdog American ice hockey team upsetting the mighty Red Army team in the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid (2004’s ‘Miracle’) or a fictional one about a washed-out boxer named Rocky Balboa (Sly Stallone) returning to the ring to face the hulking Soviet superman Captain Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren, a Swede) and avenge his friend Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers).  The rivalry in ‘Pawn Sacrifice’ between Maguire’s Bobby Fischer and Liev Schreiber’s Boris Spassky is a more subtle one, as you might expect for a thinking man’s game, but it is no less riveting as we see both players prepare and maneuver leading up to their great showdown at the 1972 World Chess Championship in Reykjavik, Iceland.
 
‘Pawn Sacrifice’ adheres to the usual conventions of biopics in its portrait of the complex and at times dislikable chess genius.  Even if he looks nothing like the man he portrayed, Maguire’s Fischer is everything we’ve read or heard about the man: eccentric, insufferable, irascible, demanding, egotistical, offensive, anti-semitic and tinfoil-wearing paranoid.  He may even have been schizophrenic, who knows?  By contrast, Schreiber’s Spassky looks almost dead-on like the Soviet chessmaster and comes across as the more sympathetic and likable of the two.  Graceful and classy, he’s the epitome of good sportsmanship. If you enjoy biopics, movies with the Cold War as backdrop or have even a passing interest in the great game of chess, ‘Pawn Sacrifice’ is not to be missed.
 
Grade: A-
 
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