Pawn Sacrifice full movie review - See "Pawn Sacrifice". You'll gain so much more than you... give up.
Good actors know how to act "in the moment", while GREAT actors know how to RE-act in the moment ? AND to act and react with their eyes, their faces and their entire bodies.
Based on those standards, "Pawn Sacrifice" (PG-13, 1:54) is VERY well-acted ? enough to even make watching chess games exciting.
Golden Globe nominees Tobey Maguire ("The Great Gatsby", "Brothers", "Seabiscuit" and the 2002-2007 "Spider-Man" Movies) and Liev Schreiber ("Lee Daniels' The Butler", "Salt", the "Scream" movies and TV's "Ray Donovan") play American Bobby Fisher and Russian Boris Spassky, two chess champions whose names will forever be linked in history for their decades-long rivalry, their epic matches and, in particular, the 1972 World Chess Championship in the politically neutral location of Reykjavík, Iceland.
It's difficult for those who don't remember the Cold War to understand all the commotion that surrounded these two men at this particular time and place, but the film does a very good job at communicating its importance. The movie opens with a brief scene in which we hear a reporter announce one of the strangest of many strange developments during those two months in Iceland, then gives us an interesting back story that puts it into context. The movie focuses mostly on Fischer. It quickly and smoothly takes us through a few key moments in his life as he becomes the world's youngest international chess grandmaster (as a 15-year-old) and shows us his rise through the ranks of the world's greatest players, culminating in his much-anticipated showdown with the USSR's Spassky.
Fischer benefits from the help and support of various people, in spite of his erratic behavior. Carmine Nigro (Conrad Pla) mentors young Bobby Fischer (Aiden Lovekamp) from when he's still an unknown Brooklyn chess prodigy. The teenage Fischer (Seamus Davy-Fitzpatrick) becomes estranged from his mother (Robin Weigert), but his sister (Lily Rabe) supports him throughout his ups and downs. As the international star of Fischer the young man rises, but he shows no interest in the political implications of his ability to challenge the Soviet Union's chess dominance, Paul Marshall (Michael Stuhlbarg) shows up. He's a mysterious lawyer who offers financial and logistical support that will help Fischer achieve his goals ? and serve his nation as an instrument of propaganda. (It's kind of like John du Pont's support of the Schultz brothers' wrestling careers in "Foxcatcher", but with less insanity and no murders.) Marshall, along with former chess champion and Catholic priest, William Lombardy (Peter Sarsgaard), spend many years helping and encouraging Fischer, as well as dealing with the chess genius' arrogant, rude and demanding behavior as well as his increasingly paranoid and fragile mental state. The film leaves out some major events and issues, and encapsulates others, but it flows well and maintains a clear focus.
The story of American chess prodigy Bobby Fischer is a remarkable one and has appeared in various forms on TV and in the movies, but never this compellingly. The film's script was written by Oscar nominee Stephen Knight, who has written little-seen, but critically acclaimed movies like "Eastern Promises" and "The Hundred-Foot Journey" as well as several TV shows and 2015 feature films "Seventh Son" and "Burnt", not to mention "World War Z 2". The director is Oscar-winner Edward Zwick, who has directed great movies like "Blood Diamond", "The Last Samurai", "The Siege", "Courage Under Fire", "Legends of the Fall" and "Glory". The former has turned dull-sounding Europe-based stories into praise-worthy films and the latter seems to do his best work on true stories and stories in historical and/or politically-significant settings. Both of these men's talents seem tailor-made for a movie like this one, and both make great use of their individual talents and experiences which, when joined with this film's truly outstanding performances, make for a fascinating historic, politically-charged biographical drama.
Maguire and Schreiber make you feel their characters' brilliance, their arrogance and, most importantly, their humanity, as they were each under tremendous pressure to perform in front of the entire world ? and represent their rival nations under a microscope as focused on each of them as on any Olympic athlete. Their bodies, their faces and, especially, their eyes draw our attention to those chess boards more than most of us probably thought possible for a movie. They make us alternately feel, or at least understand, their individual moments of stress, frustration, confusion, desperation, dejection and elation. You don't have to understand chess, have personal memories of the Cold War or even speak their languages to understand what they and those around them are going through. Now, THAT'S acting.
When talking about great actors, I've heard people say things like, "I'd pay to see him read the phone book", or "he'd be interesting just watching grass grow" (or something like that). Well, if there's ever a movie in which Tobey Maguire and Liev Schreiber recite a list of names and phone numbers while fertilizing someone's lawn, give me a call ? especially if that movie takes place during a period of high international anxiety and has an extraordinary story as exceptionally well told as "Pawn Sacrifice". "A"