One of those rare riveting movies about chess. So amidst the mistrust between countries during the Cold War, chess was exploding in popularity across the globe. The best of the best was American Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire), and this is the story about how he competed against the top Russian player, Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) in a multi-game series. One of my favorite non-movie pastimes is playing board games. My wife and I both love it, and I’m pretty certain our collection has eclipsed over 130 at this point, if not more (but who’s counting?). The very first game to send me down this path at a very young age was most definitely the game of chess; the strategy can vary so much from game to game, and you can find yourself in so many different scenarios, what’s not to love?
Truly a thinking man’s game.
I always knew about Bobby Fischer by name, but I never really knew him as a person; in the chess world, his reputation is unparalleled, but it’s not like I ever read a book or anything about the guy, and this was not something that I lived through. Pawn Sacrifice serves as an excellent character study, truly showing just what makes this man tick. I really felt like I learned something in addition to being entertained, which isn’t something I expected to say regarding a movie about chess. This performance is brought to life by an inspired Tobey Maguire; I thought he’s been good in the past, but I’ve never seen him deliver a performance as elevated as the one he does here. He has all these paranoid ticks to him, and all the oddities that come off as character flaws when you know you’re the smartest person in the room.
The dancing scene from Spider-Man 3 is a distant memory now.
Playing off Tobey is a quality cast of character actors that is always working. The terrific Michael Stuhlbarg shows up for a small role, as does Peter Sarsgaard. I didn’t like Schreiber when I first saw him in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but I’ve come to realize that is merely because that is an atrocious movie, because he has been great in everything I’ve seen him in since, this included. Pawn Sacrifice is more exciting than a movie about chess has any right to be. It has a similar framework to a boxing movie, believe it or not, and when you get to the final showdown between Fischer and Spassky, it’s like watching heavyweights trade blows in the center of the ring. The movie itself has a great flow to it, and it is well worth seeing the performance given by Maguire, as he doesn’t play Fischer, but becomes him.
Pawn Sacrifice (2014) ****
– Critic for Hire
Want to see where this fell in my list of best films of the 2015? See for yourself here.