Maguire a pawn star in Pawn Sacrifice

Gavin Gaddis

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Pawn Sacrifice

To those who think it would be difficult to make professional chess exciting, I submit “Pawn Sacrifice” as evidence that they are indeed correct.

Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) wants to be the world champion of chess, but first he’ll have to defeat the infamously skilled grand champions of the Soviet Union.

With the help of a chess wizard-priest—who inexplicably swears and drinks for most of the film—and a lawyer with magical ties to the United States government, Fischer is able to fight for that goal.

“Pawn Sacrifice” has all the hallmarks of a passion project: the subject matter is considered un-filmable by mainstream Hollywood. The events portrayed aren’t necessarily exciting and the actor portraying a critical role has first billing in producer credits.

Russian grandmaster Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) is a relatable, honorable character. I genuinely rooted more for him for most of the film.

Fischer is a paranoid spoiled brat. I switched between wanting to slap his smarmy face off and pitying his insanity in pretty much every other scene.

That being said, the real Fischer was a mentally unstable man who dropped out of high school to play chess professionally and never looked back. If anything, my wanting to physically assault Fischer was a success on the film’s part.

Maguire’s performance begs for an Academy Award, both with his talent and the timing of “Pawn Sacrifice.” Perhaps I sound a bit cynical for assuming as such, but with the Dec. 31 cutoff date for Academy nominations fast approaching it’s hard to think otherwise. Every year major film studios seem to push out dozens of same biographical dramas that seem to exist purely for a certain actor to strut their stuff. These dramas may not make much money at the box office, but they invariably end up in the nomination queues of awards circuits (see: “The Theory of Everything”).

Sadly the subject matter of “Pawn Sacrifice” simply does not lend to a good film structure.

The film acts as if it assumes the audience knows what constitutes a good chess game, yet doesn’t bother to clearly show the board. You can direct a chess movie to be more about the players, or you can direct the film to be about how good the plays are, but you can’t have both.

“Pawn Sacrifice” attempts both and ends up an unexciting but well-acted quagmire of chess and uncomfortable silence in the final act. The ending is so rushed and unfulfilling one feels as if even the movie is checking its watch and wondering when this will all be over.

 

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