Back Rowe Reviews
Real Time Movie Reviews from the Back Row of a Theater

Pawn Sacrifice (PG-13)

Directed by: Edward Zwick
Starring: Tobey Maguire
September 2015

This review was originally tweeted in Real-time from the back row of a movie theater and appears @BackRoweReviews. Though efforts were made to tease rather than ruin this movie’s memorable lines and moments, some spoilers may exist in the following evaluation. The original tweets appear in black, while follow-up comments appear in red. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. All ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!

Pawn Sacrifice

“There are bad people out there.” Way to teach you kid, Ms. Fischer.
No wonder Fischer is so messed up later in life. Correction: “you” should be “your.”

“He taught himself.” Incredible.
The way the onscreen graphics illustrate the various moves that Fischer is seeing in his head is utterly brilliant.

“I want silence.” Woah!
I remember yelling that in my college dorm when knuckleheads were causing a commotion in the hallway while I was trying to study. Under the circumstances, I think my reaction was far more rational than Fischer’s here.

5 against 1. Fischer has a meltdown.
Fischer detects a pattern, something John Nash (Russell Crowe) was also pretty good at in A Beautiful Mind (2001).

“Russians are like boa constrictors.” Amazing how Fischer can remember every move of every game.
Although, some people can do the same for every baseball game they’ve ever seen on TV or listened to on the radio.

“Without chess he doesn’t exist.”
Not much of an existence if your whole world is wrapped up in one thing.

“A war of perception.” #ColdWar at its finest.

“World War III on a chess board.” Fischer vs Spassky.
The intrigue and action start kicking into high gear at this point.

Game 1 is decided by loud camera sounds.
And people in the audience whispering, coughing, etc. Noise pollution to the ultra sensitive.

Game 2- No show.
Fischer is busy looking for bugs in his room. No, not bedbugs.

Game 3. Bobby employs the “suicide” opening.
Dispensing with convention is what enables Fischer to get back into the tournament. A fact punctuated by his ingenious strategy in Game 6, which chess experts consider the finest game of chess ever played. Let that sink in for a minute.

The X-ray of Spassky’s chair reveals two dead flies. Nice to know Bobby isn’t the only one who’s nuts.
A great sequence that makes us question whether Spassky is just messing with Fischer or if he’s just as paranoid as his American opponent. The scene in Spassky’s room gives us a possible clue.

Chess is the search for truth.
Hmm…here I thought it was about humiliating your opponent.

Final analysis: a true story of a rare genius tragically plagued by a mental illness.
As we’ve seen in many examples throughout history, genius always has a trade-off: Vincent van Gogh, Brian Wilson (watch Love & Mercy), the aforementioned John Nash, etc.

Maguire delivers as a paranoid, angry perfectionist in an Oscar-worthy turn.

3 out of 4. Archival footage is a plus in this Cold War drama featuring U.S.’s most eccentric hero.

Steeped in Cold War intrigue, Pawn Sacrifice (how awesome is that title?) is like a John le Carre spy novel merged with a psychological drama couched in a historical biopic. Not to be confused with Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993), which told the story of a young chess prodigy who was trying to become the next Fischer, this film features the real account of Fischer’s turbulent life and career. Fischer, who rose to prominence in the sport of chess during the early years of the Cold War, made defeating the Russians his personal mission in life, an objective that met with extreme resistance since the Russians ruled the game during the 60s and 70s and had a system in place to ensure their continued dominance. Even though Fischer’s ambitions to singlehandedly dismantle the Russian juggernaut set him on an arduous path, the toughest opponent Fischer ever faced was himself. In the throes of a co-morbid stew of symptoms (which, according to my unprofessional opinion, included: OCD, paranoia, manic depressive disorder and some form of autism), Fischer’s brilliance certainly came with a price. Bringing such a multifaceted character to life would prove challenging to any performer and former Spider-Man actor, Tobey Maguire, probably wouldn’t appear on anyone’s short list to play such an emotionally demanding part. However, sometimes defying conventional wisdom produces greatness and such is the case here as Maguire turns in his finest performance since Seabiscuit (2003). Although Maguire’s acting is consistently superb in the film, and should attract the attention of the Academy, the tantrum on the beach and the scene where Fischer tears his room apart looking for bugs are standouts. As with any good story, a hero can never truly shine without a formidable foil—that role is filled by Liev Schreiber, who is exceptional in his portrayal of Russian chess god Boris Spassky, a man who, as characterized in the film, had some mental troubles of his own. If the idea of watching a series of chess matches for two hours doesn’t appeal to you, know that director Edward Zwick (Glory) has done an excellent job of building tension through interpersonal and intrapersonal conflict and that very little of the movie is spent hunched over a chess board. That said, even if you aren’t a chess fan, the mesmerizing performances and bracing drama should hold your interest throughout the movie. The use of nightly news clips and archival footage from the actual chess tournaments also infuses the film with a degree of historical accuracy that should effectively transport you back to these significant events, which took place over forty years ago. So if you’re in the mood for a Cold War yarn, or just a fascinating character study of a mad genius, this movie is for you. That’s my gambit. Your move.