Film Review by FIORE
Though I was but a wee Bern at the time, I remember the strong emotional context of the Boris Spassky – Bobby Fischer championship chess match. The height of the cold war, with both Russia and America flexing their muscles to the rest of the world. In chess, the Russians had no equal, until Fischer. He was a game wunderkind. Their match become more than a simple game; it became an international arm-wrestling contest between the world’s two super powers. I remember when Fischer began his antics prior to and during the match, I thought it was a chess master controlling the board outside of the board. Fischer wanted to win and show the world he was the best, but he was up against a Russian juggernaut machine. It seemed to me, at the time, Fischer was playing a game inside the game. One would not conceive that notion with the new film about the historical match called Pawn Sacrifice.
The movie paints Fischer as a certified loony; an authoritative genius who accomplishes his life’s ambition at an early age and then has nothing more to live for. The script, penned by Stephen Knight, strongly suggests Fischer hated Communism, not because it is a failed social-government policy resulting in the deaths of millions, but rather because the party took his mother away from him.
In Knight’s script, Fischer’s mom is heavily involved with the Communist Party of America, wanting to spread Karl Marx’s ideologies to the land of the free. She even becomes engaged in politics; obviously, she joins the Democratic Party. Fischer despises his mother for ignoring him in favor of Communism and the various refugee Kosacks she beds to make her mark with the Party. So, while the country looks to Fischer for patriotic propaganda, Fischer is seeking revenge on the folk who stole his mother away. I honestly don’t remember that perspective from living through this episode in history. I do remember the erratic play and behavior Fischer utilized to defeat his Russian adversary. This perspective, from Knight while different, makes for a good story. It is especially engrossing when augmented by actually footage of Fischer in his latter years, seen at the film’s end.
KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE SIXTH GAME
2. SPASSKY’S CHAIR
3. LOST VIRGINITY
Tobey Maguire plays Bobby Fischer. His manic, eclectic acting style is perfect for this role. I, for one, thought Maguire’s glory days in Tinseltown were doomed after the shenanigans he pulled with the Spider-Man Trilogy. Not many would have survived that rather childish jape, but luckily this was before Disney conquered Marvel. Maguire was smart; he shifted his emphasis to behind the camera and became a member of the Producer’s Guild of America. He not only stars in this film, but serves as principal producer as well.
Live Schreiber is subtle, non-descript, but effective as Boris Spassky. He successfully maintains his calculating veneer, until he realizes he is being played. Also strong is Peter Sarsgaard as Father Bill Lombardy, the only man to beat both Spassky and Fischer in his younger days, before turning to God. He is the only one who has a hint at the game Fischer is truly playing.
Before the film began, the screen displayed the MPAA rating. It’s PG-13, for, among other items, “Historical Smoking”. I must admit bewilderment. Is this smoking in an historical context, in which case, what does it matter? Or is this smoking in a most profound manner? If so, I didn’t see that. Just another example of Hollywood attempting to be too pigeon-holed in order to appear politically correct.
All told, Pawn Sacrifice is an interesting view. It may not capture the essence of the patriotism the incident contained, but it does serve as a glimpse into a genius, tortured soul.
THE GRADE FOR PAWN SACRIFICE = B-