Sunday, October 11, 2015

Pawn Sacrifice Review

Pawn Sacrifice 
Director:  Edward Zwick 
Cast Headliners: Tobey Macguire, Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard
Original Release Date: September 16th, 2015

Seen: October 2015

     Who would think that a chess player could be a rockstar? Who could think that one could turn the story of chess god Bobby Fischer into a Rocky 4-esque cold war thriller? Who would think that Tobey Macguire would be in a historical drama? Well all this and more happens in Pawn Sacrifice, the story of Bobby Fisher and his key games against Russian players.
The movie is a staple biopic in that it follows Bobby Fischer (Tobey Macguire) from his young childhood and onwards. The early sequences with his Cold War involved mother Regina (Robin Weigart) are alright notwithstanding his interest in chess since the actors chosen for his younger selves are not exactly cohesive or effective. Luckily things much improve when it jumps to his critical years in the 1970s as his climb to fame happened.
Macguire gives an interesting performance as Fischer. He ranges from cool and calculating in matches to delivering paranoid delusions to his sister Joan (Lilly Rabe). While it certainly shows Fischer's descent to madness, its unfortunate that Macguire appears to over-act a bit at times and thus he's not the highlight of the film.
The supporting cast luckily makes up for him. His assistants in priest William Lombardy (Peter Sarsgaard) and manager Paul Marshall (Michael Stuhlberg) are great in their roles and the film is at its strongest when these three interact and have standoffs as the stress mounts. Lombardy and Marshall provide a nice contrast in the different personalities, and the film feels at times to be their story as well.
But how about those Russians. Well they are for the most part shown as generic evil chess villians, but of course his opponent in the 1972 is Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber). Schreiber is an a unique facet of the film in that his perspective is under-utilized and that he barely has any lines of dialogue. Perhaps it is fitting for the real man but one feels wanting to have seen more or perhaps it is a feeling of being underwhelmed instead.
The other, and perhaps tragic, underwhelming facet of Pawn Sacrifice is... the chess matches. There are many occasions where Fischer will start a match and it will skip to its conclusion. Even in pivotal ones that are shown the action isn't focused on the bored leaving a viewer confused at times unless they are paying attention. The film ends up being more about everything BUT the actual chess. What is shot nicely though are some occasional landscapes from the world tour Fischer goes on.

Pawn Sacrifice is an attempt at being a great biography that hits some good notes but falls short of that greatness. Its side characters are good, but its protagonist isn't. The world around chess can be nice to look at or intense to witness, but the matches arent. Its a decent shell with a hollow core. Much like Fischer himself. 7.65 out of 10

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