Who knew chess could be so exciting? Pawn Sacrifice is an emotional movie with great performances and one hell of a story to tell. Oscar Levant said: “There’s a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.” Bobby Fischer took his advice and became one of the best chess players in the history of mankind. Rivaled only by the phenomenal Russian Grandmaster Spassky, his life story was begging for a big-screen adaptation. Mostly because it’s just so damn intriguing. We will witness how he became one of the greatest chess players in history but the focus will be on his later years.
It’s also so refreshing to be focusing on something as “analog” as a chess game. A game that’s been around for centuries but due to the rise of computers has started to lose its appeal in recent decades. Hopefully, this movie will make you think about trying it out. Who knows, maybe you’re the next big thing in the world of chess. Tobey Maguire’s performance here was perhaps his best so far. He was able to convey all the subtleties that such a role requires and was quite captivating. The same goes for much of the supporting cast, although I would like to also single out Liev Schreiber.
In recent months, we’ve seen a lot of similarly great biopics and Pawn Sacrifice is a nice addition to the collection. Experimenter, The Theory of Everything, and The Imitation Game just to name a few. Same as with those movies, you can expect stylish and appealing visuals here too. Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, this is also a period movie. The atmosphere is engaging with several stories overlapping in almost every scene. And I don’t think I need to tell you that the characters are incredibly well developed.
Bobby Fischer discovered chess when he was very young and by the time he was 15 years old he was already the youngest grandmaster. Troubled by his turbulent family life, he devotes his life to chess, beating almost everyone he meets. His desire to be the best on the planet will pit him against an obvious opponent: USSR. Their greatest player Spassky is willing to take on Bobby in what everyone is calling the game of the century.
If I said to you that a chess game could be as exciting as any other sport, you wouldn’t believe me. They actually pulled it off by carefully building characters and tension, ultimately making us care about them. These stories of kids who are so smart have always fascinated me. How or why someone is able to operate on a such level is something we are yet to figure out. And also the fact that it’s all really happened just adds another layer to the movie. Pawn Sacrifice additionally managed to show us all the complexities of the USA-USSR relationship.
Finally, if you’re looking for similar movies, I recommend The Queen’s Gambit miniseries. It’s not based on real events but it’s quite engaging and more importantly about chess.
Director: Edward Zwick
Writers: Steven Knight, Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Liev Schreiber, Lily Rabe, Peter Sarsgaard, Sophie Nélisse, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick
Fun Facts: The screenplay for this film was featured in the 2009 Blacklist. That’s a list of the most liked unmade scripts of the year.