Hot Take: Pawn Sacrifice captures all the genius and paranoia of Bobby Fischer without much of the drama. At times, the biopic feels more documentary than movie. Not the worst thing… but it keeps a very good film from being great.
Historically accurate, Pawn Sacrifice tells the story of bigger than life chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer and his ascent to the top of the chess world. Edward Zwick’s biopic about Fischer powers through much of his early life so briskly, once the film hits the meat of the story, the meticulous detail and more lumbering pace throw off the film.
As Fischer, Tobey Maguire delivers a strong performance in his biggest role since the Spider-Man trilogy. His angry, paranoid portrayal of the chess genius should receive high marks. The supporting cast — specifically Liev Schreiber as Boris Spassky and Peter Sarsgaard as Father Bill Lombardy — are also compelling.
Maguire’s performance probably comes as a surprise to some still hangover from his turn as Peter Parker. Although those who really soured on Maguire by Spider-Man 3 are likely to not cut him any slack here due to some of the physical differences between the two men. Such a dismissal is unfair as Maguire’s acting should be applauded as he gives arguably the performance of his career.
One of the biggest challenges of the film is keeping Pawn Sacrifice from being an imitation of the events rather than an interpretation. In general, the film avoids imitation but there are moments that can’t help itself. In the end, this is what keeps Pawn Sacrifice in the second tier of movies this year.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Tobey Maguire
“Best of” career performance.
- Live Schreiber’s Russian
You’ll be surprised to learn he knew none before filming.
- Historical Accuracy
From most accounts, the facts were nailed and recreated fairly close to the original down to the chess moves.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Lots of Chess
The movie has a lot of chess scenes and spends a decent amount of time on it. These scenes will lose part of the audience because, for the most part, chess will be unexciting no matter how well it is framed.
- The Most Obvious Choice
While the film covers most of Fischer’s life until his rise to chess champion, there are plenty of other aspects of his life that are interesting enough for big screen adoption. However, the movie quickly moves to the Spassky match and sits there.
- The Speed of the Initial Scenes and the Wrap-Up
The opening scenes advance Fischer into adulthood at lightning speed. The wrap-up covers a lot of ground, too, without much of the why. It doesn’t settle well with the rest of the film’s pace.