Simple but interesting, this biopic with Cold War aspect is about an unstable chess champion well played by Tobey Maguire.
At first, it’s not really attractive to watch a film which the main theme is chess. You can even think that it may simply make you run away. But Pawn Sacrifice is not just a story about chess world championships, seen through one of the American champion, Bobby Fischer.
Edward Zwick (who directed The Last Samurai and Blood Diamond and produced Shakespeare in Love) managed, through the world championship that took place between the 60s and the 70s, and especially during the “the match of the century” in 1972, to create a metaphor for the Cold War. He shows you that this perpetual struggle without arms that took place between the Americans and the Russians could take huge proportions in all fields at the risk of a diplomatic incident.
Tobey Maguire (who produced the film) was rather good as Bobby Fisher, the chess American champion who was, unfortunately suffering from a kind of paranoia that spoilt his life and led him to believe that he had his phone tapped and that everyone was after him. He started to be greedy and that made him look like a spoiled child that refused to do what was asked of him.
But the more the film progresses and the more you wonder if this paranoia is not simulated in order to avoid facing his rival, the Russian Boris Spassky, played by Liev Schreiber (Defiance also directed by Edward Zwick) who was not as paranoid as him but more suspicious.
The director makes an opposition between Americans and Russians without falling into the Manichean cliché of exaggerating the Russian “Bad Guys” aspect. The opposition is created by financial means that were not used for the competition but for the champions. Boris Spassky has led a luxury life while Bobby Fisher was initially in modest places.
Despite a two hours length, the rhythm is not slow. Despite the cold and the media war atmosphere (many images from television news archives regularly intersect in the film), it can at times be taken with casualness because of the soundtrack composed by James Newton Howard (composer of the Blood Diamond & The Dark Knight soundtracks). It didn’t create any particular dramatic tension that might have been expected after watching the trailer.
Is it #DudeChick certified ?
We like Tobey Maguire, but the film remains really conventional.