Pawn Sacrifice (2015)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on September 16, 2015 @

Pawn Sacrifice is a character study without much character.

The spindly characters are more pawns than kings, queens, bishops, and knights.

Pawn Sacrifice is based on the life of chess master Bobby Fischer and focuses on his vastly destabilizing struggles - both professional and personal.

Fischer was a poor boy from Brooklyn who became an international sensation because of his phenomenal success playing chess. He became wracked with destructive mental stress.

The film emphasizes his paranoia. He is distressed - sometimes violently - by sounds - the distant whirr of a camera, a cough in the audience, footfalls, and random noise.

He is sure he is bugged and in danger of losing his life. He dismantles phones and other inanimate objects. He orders food specially made and delivered. He becomes bigoted. He becomes almost berserk.

In one scene his paranoia even effects his adversary Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber). At this point it might be a more entertaining film if it were Looney Tunes.

One of the major problems is that Tobey Maguire is a bit miscast as Fischer. Tobey is more an anxious Spidey than a tormented Bobby.

Schreiber is impressive as Spassky, as is Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby's friend and cohort, who is a Catholic priest. Robin Weigert adds some dimension as Bobby's mother.

But Maguire stays on the surface of the main character.

Edward Zwick directed and Steven Knight is the screenwriter. Both the direction and the writing are scattered. The film stops and starts. Zwick uses some vintage photography and blares some oldies, but it's pretty pedestrian and tired.

Pawn Sacrifice lacks the humanity of the Steven Zaillian film, Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993). If you want vibrant humanity see that again or for the first time. It makes Pawn Sacrifice seem hollow in comparison.

Pawn Sacrifice also lacks the clarity of Liz Garbus' documentary Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011).

Pawn Sacrifice lacks an arc. Game 6 of the world championship match between Fischer and Spassky is surefire, but the rest of the film is hit or miss.

Searching for Bobby Fischer was a wonderful quest.

But Pawn Sacrifice never finds him.

© 2000-2024 Tony Macklin