Tobey Maguire in Pawn Sacrifice (2014)


(director: Edward Zwick; screenwriter: Steven Knight/story by Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson and Steven Knight; cinematographer: Bradford Young; editor: Steven Rosenblum; music: James Newton Howard; cast: Tobey Maguire (Bobby Fischer), Liev Schreiber (Boris Spassky), Michael Stuhlbarg (Paul Marshall), Peter Sarsgaard (Father Bill Lombardy), Edward Zinoviev (Efrian Geller), Alexandre Gorchkov (Livo Nei), Lily Rabe (Joan Fischer), Robin Weigert (Regina Fischer), Evelyne Brochu (Donna); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Gail Katz/Tobey Maguire/Edward Zwick; Mica Entertainment/Bleecker Street; 2014)
It’s a compelling watch because the genius chess player is really crazy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Edward Zwick(“Blood Diamond”/”In The Name of the Father”/”The Siege”) directs this no-nonsense conventional biopic on the American chess prodigy Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) as if it were a boxing film, where winning and breaking the other’s will matters most. Its highlight scene is the classic chess match in 1972, in Reykjavik, Iceland, between the Russian world champion Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) and the mentally troubled challenger Fischer. It’s a compelling watch because the genius American chess player is really crazy (like what else can you say!). Maguire’s angry at the world performance is something to behold. Writer Steven Knight bases it on the story he wrote with Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson.

It’s a well-crafted, well-acted and well-produced film, and is solid entertainment even if it fails to reveal anything new about the mentally disturbed, unlikable and arrogant Fischer or about the film’s Cold War backdrop or about the behind-the-scene events at the so-called chess match of the century.

Robin Weigert plays Bobby’s neglectful Jewish commie sympathizer Brooklyn residing single mom. She’s the villain in the piece, who nurtures Bobby in a paranoia and anti-Semitism that overwhelms him in the future. Lily Rabe is the sister who cares about her little brother but can’t connect with him with niceties. Michael Stuhlbarg is the slick patriotic lawyer/handler of Bobby, who teams with the government to get him to compete with the hated Russians and thereby get good PR in beating the Russians in their own game. Peter Sarsgaard is a Catholic priest and chess grandmaster who coached Bobby because he was perhaps the only one the madman chess player could tolerate and the coach was the only one who could put up with Fischer’s relentless irritating bizarre antics. Evelyne Brochu is the one who took Bobby’ virginity.

If you think you are going to learn anything about chess from this film, you are mistaken. The chess scenes are only for show.