I finally watched the 2015 film about chess great Bobby Fischer starring Tobey Maguire. Having read a great bit about Fischer's life, and being a huge chess fan, I was interested in seeing how the filmmakers tackled the subject. Director Edward Zwick has made some very good movies, after all.
Bobby Fischer was a severely troubled human being that happened to become the best chess player on the planet in the middle of the Cold War when the U.S. needed a victory against the Soviet Union. Needless to say, there's a lot there to dig from. Unfortunately, Pawn Sacrifice just doesn't dig deep enough. While it does attempt to show Fischer's descent into madness, it doesn't adequately give the reasons why he turned into the volatile person he became, why chess was so important to fill a void in his life, or the real depth of his insanity. And that's frustrating, because this is a story that deserves to be adequately told.
Also, Tobey Maguire is severely miscast. Bobby Fischer was a big framed, lanky, deep-voiced, angry man who continually looked uncomfortable in his own skin. Maguire, who looks nothing like him, had no hope of pulling it off. And this makes a script lacking in depth all the worse. However, Liev Schreiber superbly plays Boris Spassky.
The film is at its best when Fischer plays Spassky for the World Championship. But the matches are largely shot with only close-ups of the moves mixed with reaction shots of the players and audience members—we don't get a good view of what the moves actually are! That's awful. For those who understand chess, we should see the brilliant moves. And the overuse of slow motion throughout the film just makes things worse.
Making a film about chess cannot be easy, especially on $19M. Maybe this movie plays better to those who don't know a lot about chess history. I just see it as a blown opportunity. It is an almost adequate telling of very historic time, but given the rich, ample history they had to pull from, the filmmakers didn't come close to creating the film that should have been made. I gotta say, I was disappointed.
Jon David Rosten, author of
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