Saturday, September 26, 2015
Pawn Sacrifice Review
Edward Zwick is the director here. He's given us some pretty dang good movies in the past, the most noteworthy being Glory and The Last Samurai. He's also on board to direct next year's Jack Reacher 2, which I'm stoked for. This time around he takes on another interesting true story about chess champion Bobby Fischer. Born in 1943, Fischer quickly rose to be one of the best chess players in history and possibly the best U.S. chess player in history. According to the movie, he taught himself how to play chess at a very young age and that's essentially all he thought about at that age. He was one of those chess players that would look at a chess board and see a ton of moves in advance. He would even play out games in his head or look at a picture of a chess board and figure out exactly what moves were made to get both players to that point and he would use those strategies in his own game. He was a brilliant. By the time he was a young teenager, he was playing in several U.S. championships and winning them all. Before too long, he decided that he wanted to become the world champion and thus he determined that this would require him playing the Russians. The big match that this movie focuses on is his 1972 World Chess Championship match with Russian Boris Spassky.
However, there is also much more to this movie than just chess, so if you don't like chess, this is still a movie for you. Mental health is a big theme of this movie. We aren't just watching a guy win a bunch of chess matches. We're watching a guy with a lot of mental issues. I don't know what specific mental diseases he had, so I'm not going to attempt to label them, but playing chess was all that this guy could focus on. When he wasn't playing someone, he was playing himself or going over games in his head. He also heard random voices on occasion and all the noises around him were amplified quite a bit. If someone was lightly knocking on the door, to him it felt like they were pounding. Whispering was too much for him to handle at times. Coughing was loud. He could hear the cameras rolling from a distance. This was a huge issue for him during his games because he just could not focus at times. When he was on the big stage with everyone watching, all the little sounds around him bothered him so much that there were moments where he refused to play. It got so bad for him that he would start making a whole bunch of ridiculous demands and if they weren't followed exactly, he wouldn't show up. He didn't care how important the game was or how many people were watching. If everything wasn't perfect, he wasn't going to play. He often felt like the world was conspiring against him if his demands weren't met. And his mental health just got worse and worse as his life moved on.
This is obviously a very sensitive issue that needed to be handled with care and also needed someone to absolutely nail the role. Tobey Maguire was perfect in this. Looking at his filmography, he actually hasn't been around the movie scene very much since his role as Spider-Man in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy. Despite the scene that shall not be named from Spider-Man 3, I do think he was a decent Spider-Man. Outside that, though, he has had several really good roles. He was great in Seabiscuit back in 2003. He was also amazing in The Great Gatsby in 2013. So he's an actor that I've respected throughout the years. However, this role as Bobby Fischer in Pawn Sacrifice is easily the best performance of his career. Never have I watched Tobey Maguire and said that he deserves an Oscar nomination. But I'm saying that now. He may not get it because of all the competition, but at the very least I will say his performance is Oscar caliber. And speaking of performances, there was also a lot of good performances around him. The most notable one was his main opponent, Boris Spassky, played by Liev Schreiber. It was one of those performances where Schreiber disappeared into his role. When they showed the cast in the end credits and I saw his name, it was one of those moments where I was like, "That was Liev Schreiber?" I like those moments.
I also can't leave this review without talking about all the cinematography and other technical aspects of the movie. We constantly went back and forth from in actually looking like an early 70's movie to looking like a modern day movie. This worked very well. We also had a lot of genuine news reports thrown in to help us move the story forward and I'm pretty sure they were actual news reports from back when this actually took place. If they weren't, they did a pretty dang good job of replicating those reports. We also got a lot of fan reaction from around the world thrown in there as the big match moved along, which did a pretty dang good job at letting us know how big this event was. All these news reports and fan reactions made me really get into this as I got the sensation that this was a huge event that I needed to pay attention to. I felt like I was watching the Super Bowl. And not just a boring, blowout like the Broncos vs. Seahawks from two years ago, but a Patriots vs. Seahawks game where you are on the edge of your seat the whole time. It was intense. It was awesome. Then there was the actual cinematography and editing from the chess game itself. There were a lot of quick shots from many different angles and viewpoints. One shot we were zoomed in on the chess piece that was about to be moved. Another we were watching from over the shoulder. Another we were watching the TV that everyone else was watching after Bobby demanded to play in the ping-pong room.
There's been a lot of movies released in theaters in the past couple of weeks and with Oscar season being underway as well as the Halloween and the Holiday seasons right around the corner, the number of releases aren't going to slow down any time soon. Amidst this crowded movie season, if Pawn Sacrifice has shown up in a theater near you, I would definitely recommend you check it out. We all constantly blame Hollywood for running out of ideas. Although the themes in this movie as well as the sports movie formula are nothing new, the fact that this is a chess-based movie makes this feel fresh and original. That's what it did for me, anyways. Even if you don't feel this idea is original, it's still worth checking out because it's a great psychological movie that focuses on the mental health decline of Bobby Fischer and Tobey Maguire really knocks it out of the park. This is a really fascinating and surprisingly intense movie surrounding the chess board. There's also a tagline at the end that I found simple, yet very deep and profound as concerning the game of chess as it relates to life itself. I highly recommend you give this movie a shot. I will award Pawn Sacrifice a 9/10.