Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Pawn Sacrifice

** out of ****

In Pawn Sacrifice, Tobey Maguire plays the manic Bobby Fischer in a performance that shows a lot of effort, but doesn't make the movie worth watching. Director Edward Zwick’s one-note take on the famous chess player doesn't have a relatable foundation. A lot of the film is from Fischer's perspective, which feels like a mistake, considering all the characters in the film who have more potential to be liked by the audience.

The movie focuses on Fischer’s Cold War era competition with the Soviet opponent Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber), while dealing with undiagnosed mental illness that would plague him for the rest of his life. If the movie is playing with any idea, it's that the US government encouraged Fischer into this international tournament, as another trivial symbol of fighting communism -which was terrible for Fischer who was already delusional, paranoid, and indulged in rants against Russians, Communists, and Jews (Fischer was Jewish). 

Like most other films by Zwick, there’s something tediously hollow despite how beautifully he captures everything on an aesthetic level. Like Black Mass, Pawn Sacrifice is going down a checklist of everything that will make the movie feel like other movies of its kind. The period songs, stock footage, and 16mm clips of Fischer talking to the press feel like forced stylization. The actors, such as Schreiber, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Peter Sarsgaard are all talented but the content they must work with doesn’t feel truly inspired. 

My disappointment with the film is mostly in reaction to the fact that Steven Knight wrote the screenplay. His previous screenplays, which include Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises and Locke (which I thought was one of 2014's best) felt more clever and insightful takes on people with trades that demand a lot of research. The chess knowledge this film displays seems legit, but I'm uncertain as to whether this movie's emotions fall short due to less effort on Knight's part or less influence over Zwick's tendency to be so conventional. 

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