Saturday, October 10, 2015

Movie Review: "Pawn Sacrifice" (2015)

Movie"Pawn Sacrifice"
Ticket Price: $9.75
Director: Edward Zwick
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes
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Chess prodigy Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire), aka the "Da Vinci from Brooklyn," strives to become the world's number one chess champion while he battles with mental illness and paranoid delusions. He is pitted against the best the Soviet Union has to offer and eventually the reigning world chess champion Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) as the media markets their competition as a Cold War battle between capitalism and communism, "the poor kid from Brooklyn versus the whole Soviet Union," and the "Superbowl of the chess world," bringing the game of chess into mainstream society. 

I have made it my mission in life whenever friends or family are congregating together and talking about football or baseball or the like to simply shout "SPORTS!!!!!!!!!" at the top of my lungs upon arrival of the subject because honestly, we could care less.

Does chess count as SPORTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!? Well, maybe during the Cold War it did.

There is a quote in this film in reference to Bobby Fischer that states, "who would have thought a chess player would become a rock star?" Well, who would have thought a movie about chess could be as wholly engaging and tension-filled as "Pawn Sacrifice" is? Off the bat, we noticed something different about this film. In lots of movies about historical figures, their darker side is usually glossed over completely, or referenced only in passing and not a core part to their biopic, and it's reasonably obvious why. Bobby Fischer was definitely not the most likable person in the world, and beyond his obvious mental problems, he had some really twisted viewpoints and often spouted vicious vitriol of an anti-Semitic nature, though he was Jewish himself, and made his anti-American, and anti-Russian feelings known and prevalent as well. This film doesn't shy away from Fischer's shortcomings in the slightest. He is most certainly a flawed hero of sorts. Besides struggling with a serious mental illness manifested as paranoid delusions of being followed, listened to, watched, and bugged, Fischer regularly, actually almost constantly, made outrageous demands in order to play chess on his own terms. These demands included absurd monetary compensation, how far away cameras and audiences had to be while he was playing, and he even went as far as demanding Boris Spassky play several games in a quiet, secluded back room away from serious camera presence, which apparently upset him greatly. Wow.

Tobey Maguire actually does an excellent job portraying chess grand master Bobby Fischer and manages to get the audience to feel some modicum of sympathy for him despite his outlandish behavior, partially because much of Fischer's problem is actually caused by mental illness and not simply because he's a dick, though it may actually be a little bit of both. Maguire's portrayal makes the audience both horrified by Fischer's obsessive nature and compassionate about his struggles. It's a complicated dance between psychosis and obsession, and Maguire delivers a dandy performance. Fischer is also used as a pawn in the propaganda battle between the USA and the USSR during the Cold War, so he takes full advantage where and when he can, striving to get as much money as possible when the opportunity presented itself since he was in such high demand, and why not? Chess wasn't and isn't currently a big money game, though there were probably more tactful ways to execute his wants. Also used as a pawn  on the other side of the spectrum was Fischer's rival Boris Spassky, played by Liev Schreiber, putting on his best Russian accent and donning a serious, stoic gaze. Spassky is actually the more likable of the two main players and Schreiber makes him out to be quite charming. Spassky also shares in some paranoia, too, though he may have had more reason to as it seemed the USSR was in a constant state of fear that Spassky may try to defect anytime he went out of the country to play in chess tournaments. Together, Schreiber and Maguire are a dynamic duo, a yin and yang of sorts, and each man, both together and separately, do very well in their roles. Peter Sarsgaard is also in the film as priest and chess player Bill Lombardy, who does his best to keep Bobby Fischer in line as much as possible. Sarsgaard delivers some great lines throughout the film, and though he's a priest, takes some liberties where drinking and language are concerned. Sarsgaard also has some interesting exchanges with Macguire as well.

You may be asking yourself, "why was this movie made? Didn't they pretty much cover it in "Searching for Bobby Fischer" several years ago?" Well, in the grand scheme of biopics, and with some due to debut this year in the thick of Oscar contention (we're looking at you, the second movie in 2 years made about Steve Jobs, "Steve Jobs"), most might look at "Pawn Sacrifice" as an unnecessary, safe, or baity film about a man who, quite frankly, very few people care about or remember. With no expectations, we walked away from this movie pleasantly surprised and thoroughly entertained, never knowing the drama, suspense, and hold chess once had over this great nation of ours.

My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 72%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

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