Film Review: Tobey Maguire does it again as the Peter Parker of chess in ‘Pawn Sacrifice’

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Bleecker Street Media

Scout Weymouth, Staff Writer

“Pawn Sacrifice” cinematically represents what an average 18 hours of chess a day can do to the sanity of a person. This film is based off of the true life story of one of the greatest chess players of all time, Bobby Fischer, whose life and chess career are terrifically dramatized in “Pawn Sacrifice.”

The film follows Fischer’s career as a great chess player beginning at the age of six and retells the story of his chess focused life that lead him to beating the Soviets and earning the title of world champion of chess.

The film starts in the early 1950s as Bobby Fischer, played by Tobey Maguire, learns to play chess and beats every single person he plays. Fischer is raised by single mother Regina Fischer (Robin Weigert) and an older sister Joan Fischer (Lily Rabe). Once the potential of Fischer is realized, he begins to defeat the top ranked players of New York City who are over twice his age.

Fischer’s lifetime goal was to surpass all other chess players of the world and gain the world title. At the time, the Soviet Union dominated the chess world, and Fischer was the first person to test their dominance.

Fischer is followed to Iceland for the world championship chess match by a two-man support team consisting of a lawyer with connections to the White House and a priest. The lawyer (Michael Stuhlbarg) believes that obtaining the world title for the Unites States in the chess world would stand as a victory in the Cold War and is focused on doing whatever it takes to defeat and humiliate the Soviets.

The Reverend William Lombardy (Peter Sarsgaard) is also a talented chess player, and supports Fischer through each match.His skill at the game of chess leads Fischer to the world championships against the man holding the title of no. 1 best chess player in the world, Boris Spassky, played by Liev Schreiber.

Paranoia soon begins to get the best of Fischer as he starts to believe he is being watched through the television and that all of the telephones he uses are bugged by the Soviets. Fischer begins to make supercilious demands for each of his matches and even goes as far as demanding that there be no audience or cameras present at the championship matches.

Tobey Maguire does a fantastic job of taking over the psychotic paranoid persona of Bobby Fischer; however, his counterpart, Liev Schreiber, leaves a little too much to the imagination of the audience as never really gets a glimpse into what he is feeling. Bobby Fischer’s deteriorating appearance and social awkwardness is perfectly manifested in the performance by Tobey Maguire. In contrast, Boris Spassky’s feelings and personality are not communicated well towards the audience through Liev Schreiber’s dull and monotonous performance.

The editing of this film does a wonderful job of putting the audience in two places. In the first perspective, the audience is simply watching the performance of the actors in the film, but from the second perspective, the audience is put directly into the 1960s. The filmmakers cleverly do this by switching back and forth from clear color cinematography to black and white cinematography and real clips of the iconic events in the 1960s, like the Beatles, the Kennedys, and the Vietnam War and its protesters.

Don’t worry if you aren’t an avid chess player, this movie will keep you on the edge of your seat as you wait to see what move Fischer will make next.

Our Grade: A
“Pawn Sacrifice”
Rated: PG-13
Length: 115 minutes
Genre: Drama
Directed by: Edward Zwick
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard