Pawn Sacrifice Movie Review
I wanted to fill this review full of chess puns and terms to sound much wittier than I actually am, but upon reviewing said terms, I didn’t find all that much of interest. The same can be said about chess in general--while I respect the game, watching a movie about chess sounds about as exciting as, well, watching a movie about chess.
Of course, Pawn Sacrifice is not just about chess--it’s about Bobby Fischer, easily the most widely known American chess player ever to have played the game. And as far as a movie about Bobby Fischer goes, Pawn Sacrifice delivers solid entertainment, even if it comes up a bit short on the emotional side.
This dichotomy is not uncommon for movies by Edward Zwick (Blood Diamond, The Last Samurai), who makes some great-looking, typically very entertaining movies that don’t quite fire on all cylinders. In that vein, Pawn Sacrifice features a great performance by Tobey Maguire and a solid showcase of the competition between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber), but it never puts your emotions in check mate (chess pun!).
It doesn’t help that Bobby Fischer is an asshole.
Demanding, condescending and stubborn--oh, and paranoid, eccentric and a bit off his rocker--Fischer is not exactly a likable individual. Maguire still plays him magnificently though, delivering his best performance in years and providing proper insight into the mind of a fractured genius. Nonetheless, whether it’s due to the character himself or the way Zwick handles things, you never feel that sense of satisfaction or excitement when Fischer inevitably takes down Spassky.
Zwick handles the various chess games fairly well by building up a certain level of tension, though some efforts to dumb things down for those not well versed in chess would have helped. There are various examples, primarily in the poker subgenre of film, where directors sufficiently simplify what you need to know about the game, even if you know nothing about poker. Zwick doesn’t really do that here, and the film suffers some as a result.
Still, Pawn Sacrifice is a well made, well acted film that is probably about as good as it ever was going to be. The movie isn’t quite Oscar calibre, even if there are elements that rise to such levels, but it’s fine portrayal of a troubled man who knew how to kick some major ass in chess.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.