Pawn Sacrifice Theatrical Review

Here’s a review of Pawn Sacrifice by The Film Stage who gave the movie a B+:

I’ve always been fascinated by Bobby Fischer due to his vanishing rather than anything he accomplished at a chessboard. I’ve never been good at the game, yet I respect its complexity. The greats literally memorize past matches and maneuvers, so in-tune with the playing field that they can play out loud with nothing more than words. Fischer was a great—the youngest Grandmaster in history and the first American-born World Champion. Like most geniuses, however, the strain of intellect, pressure, and success brought with it a hefty price. For Bobby it was the deterioration of his mental health. And as it’s told in Edward Zwick‘s Pawn Sacrifice, he may have known this from the beginning. If he were to rise to the top, the time was now.

My knowledge of the man was always miniscule: a footnote to a 1980s film I watched religiously called Searching for Bobby Fischer. The height of his legend came before I was born so this is hardly surprising, but how can you not be captivated by a bona fide hero who left it all behind? To me he was an enigma. To the government an enemy of the state after playing a rematch with Boris Spassky years after his retirement, forcing exile to Iceland before passing away in 2008. To the world in 1972 he was the most important figure in sports—a one-man stand-in for the United States who took on the entire Soviet Union and won. His story deserved a worthwhile biography and Hollywood has complied.

It begins with paranoia. Fischer (Tobey Maguire) is holed up in his room, listening to everything as though the volume has been turned to eleven for him and him alone. He’s just forfeited Game 2 of the World Championship Finals with Spassky (Liev Schreiber), fearful he’s being monitored and cataloged by the KGB. It’s his looking out the window at a man with a camera that transports us two decades earlier to a similar event. Apparently Bobby has been fighting the Communists for years, his mother (Robin Weigert) a sympathizer whose boyfriends became a steady stream of enemy combatants because they ruined his concentration. Self-taught in Brooklyn, Fischer’s rise was swift and deliberate. It came with an incorrigible ego and abrasive attitude that perpetually risked ending everything.

Steven Knight‘s screenplay and Zwick’s direction do a good job pushing through these early years in a well-paced quasi-montage with 1951 Bobby wowing his teacher Carmine (Conrad Pla) and teenage Bobby taking on eight players at once before transforming into Maguire’s mainstay. We get a sense of his unraveling: the unshakable penchant to latch onto innocuous details and refuse to let go and his insane demands to ensure his success. This was a volatile young man who understood his worth and preyed upon those who wanted him to win more than he did. Cocky from the age of eight, he “knew” he was the best and believed he had nothing to prove. If the Chess Federation wanted evidence, they would have to comply.

In this respect Fischer’s life is shown as a war with himself. Strip away the Cold War overtones, agent/lawyer Paul Marshall’s (Michael Stuhlbarg) connections with the White House to position him as the patriotic story he’d become, and the mystique of the Russian game with Spassky at the lead and we have a lost young man drowning under his own expectations. His trajectory is riddled with self-sabotage and match suicide. Chess is his life and we see it in these actions because he knows winning everything and beating everyone is synonymous with death. At that point the game itself would be defeated and Bobby would have nowhere else to go. He screamed the world was against him, but reality proves it was just himself all along.

The film’s full of interesting characters met along the way including a California prostitute (Evelyne Brochu‘s Donna) and Bobby’s “coach” Father Bill Lombardy (Peter Sarsgaard). No one ever understands Fischer—least of all Stuhlbarg’s Marshall despite his putting every ounce of energy into trying—but Donna and Bill come closest. My definition of close is their refusal to simply give in to his demands or his adversarial nature, especially Lombardy. Sarsgaard is the second best part of the film as a result, a walking contradiction that discovers faith in Fischer to be a tough commodity to keep. He knows exactly who Bobby is and he knows none of this can end well. But he must continue forward because he also knows Fischer’s gifts deserve their opportunity.

Pawn Sacrifice‘s best part is of course Maguire giving possibly the most powerful performance of his career. His Fischer is tightly wound and at risk of bursting at any given moment. He often does too, blowing a gasket with a verbal tirade or retreating so far into his head that nothing’s safe and everything a potential weapon to be used against him. Maguire excels at portraying this increased paranoia and fear—wide-eyed and distant as though a wall exists between him and those with whom he’s forced to converse. So quick to request impossible demands, his surprise when they’re met elicits a quiet, “Right.” In a fog until he isn’t, his psychological and emotional spectrums find their polar ends in a constant state of overlap.

We invest in the journey because of this, forgiving his attitude because his genius needs the freedom of an uninhibited mind to excel. You can’t subdue him like the calm and collected Spassky because it isn’t who he is. Fischer craves spontaneity as game plan and that lack of filter playing is mirrored in his choices away from the board. Both the drama and tension rise to a fever pitch until the championship match gets underway with its sudden starts and stops. And somehow this circus delivers the most engrossing sports tournament I’ve seen onscreen in years. Zwick renders the chess as riveting as any major league event while the story shows how the game became an overnight phenomenon. Fischer provided hope just as his own disappeared forever.
Pawn Sacrifice is now in limited release.

‘Pawn Sacrifice’ Review: Tobey Maguire Makes All The Right Moves In Gripping Bobby Fischer Story

A smart, intelligent and fascinating movie in every way, director Ed Zwick’s Pawn Sacrifice makes all the right moves in this intensely watchable, sort-of biopic of the great chess grand master Bobby Fischer. But thanks to Zwick’s precise direction and camera work, and a taut script from Steven Knight (with story credit to Knight, Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson), this doesn’t play like a typical Hollywood biopic at all, but rather a snapshot in time that tells you more about who Fischer really was than any linear telling of his life could possibly do.

Set during the 1972 World Chess Championship in Iceland, the film focuses on the thrilling match-up between the reluctant and diva-plus Fischer against cooler reigning champ Boris Spassky of Russia. Althoughpete hammond review badge Vietnam and President Nixon’s unraveling were dominating world affairs, no one seemed to care about anything else when this chess match took place. It became an event of global importance as well as a political football, and it was broadcast live around the globe. The film delves into what drove Fischer’s genius, and quite frankly Tobey Maguire in the lead role offers the single greatest screen portrayal of paranoia I have ever seen. As I say in my video review (click the link above), this is undoubtedly the star’s finest work ever. He is simply superb, as is Liev Schreiber as Spassky, speaking every word of his dialogue in Russian, a language he didn’t know at all before taking on this role. I think we have to consider him on the short list of Best Supporting Actor Oscar possibilities. In fact, the entire cast makes this movie for grownups brilliantly acted. I would note also Michael Stuhlbarg as Fischer’s lawyer and Peter Sarsgaard as the priest who became his confidante and “chess whisperer.”

It certainly isn’t easy to make the game of chess compelling for an entire two-hour movie, especially for people like me who have never played the game. But I have to say, I was on the edge of my seat watching this movie. So much of it is played in the eyes of Maguire, and it is those moments of telling silence where this story is the most compelling. Zwick and his ace cinematographer Bradford Young (Selma) have found a way to make camera moves that are just as complex as all the chess board moves in the storyline.

There can be no doubt that Bobby Fischer was about as unique and tortured a champion of this game that ever was. The film briefly details his childhood obsession with it, before focusing strongly on his almost impossible, single-minded, self-obsessed nature. And actually, as it unspools, you can see how the man became as paranoid as he did. Pawn Sacrifice is a full-bodied portrait of Fischer at that period of time. It would be his peak, a rock star like no other whose chess playing ability took on more importance than a Presidential summit at the height of the Cold War ever could have. Chess fan or not, this movie will have you from start to finish.

Gail Katz, Maguire and Zwick are the producers. Maguire himself spent the better part of a decade developing the film for his production company, Material Pictures. New distributor Bleecker Street picked up the movie out of last year’s Toronto Film Festival.

Do you plan to see Pawn Sacrifice? Let us know what you think.


Pawn Sacrifice Poster & Stills

Pawn Sacrifice is set to open on September 16th, here is the Trailer, Poster and Stills.


In a gripping true story set during the height of the Cold War, American chess prodigy Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) finds himself caught between two superpowers when he challenges the Soviet Empire. Also starring Liev Schreiber and Peter Sarsgaard, PAWN SACRIFICE chronicles Fischer’s terrifying struggles with genius and madness, and the rise and fall of a kid from Brooklyn who captured the imagination of the world.

Gallery Links:

  • Film Productions > 2015 Pawn Sacrifice > Stills
  • Film Productions > 2015 Pawn Sacrifice > Posters
First Look at Tobey in Pawn Sacrifice

Here’s a first look at Tobey Maguire and Jeremy Renner in Pawn Sacrifice, which is set to debut in this year’s Toronto International Film Festival in September

Official Synopsis:

In this remarkable true story set in the height of the Cold War, chess legend Bobby Fischer is locked in a gripping championship clash with the Soviets as he struggles against his own psychological demons while the whole world anxiously awaits the outcome.