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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Movie Review - Pawn Sacrifice

Pawn Sacrifice (2015)
Starring Tobey Maguire, Michael Stuhlbarg, Peter Sarsgaard, Liev Schrieber, Lily Rabe, and Robin Weigart
Directed by Edward Zwick
***This film is currently streaming via Amazon Prime***

As a young boy growing up in 1950s America, Bobby Fischer lived with his mother (Robin Weigart) whose Communist beliefs didn't sit well with the population at large.  One particularly resonant moment in his life occurred when the young Bobby looks out the door at a party his mother is throwing and sees a man in a vehicle spying on their residence, taking pictures of the party's attendees.  As Bobby grows up (now played by Tobey Maguire), he becomes an incredibly well-known chess prodigy who places the game of chess squarely on the American map, particularly when he agrees to compete in a head-to-head battle against reigning Chess Master Boris Spassky (Live Schrieber) at the 1972 World Chess Championship.  However, moments from Bobby's difficult childhood -- including that moment from his mother's party -- have shaped the chess master into an extremely paranoid man who believes that he is being spied upon by everyone everywhere.  Bobby's personal inner demons stemming in part from his Communist-sympathizer mother are just as much a battle for him as it is going up against Spassky.

I am no chess player -- I know very rudimentary aspects of the game, but I was a checkers person growing up as no one in my family played chess -- and Pawn Sacrifice doesn't place the rules of the game front and center.  Instead, it tries to delve into the mind of Bobby Fischer, but this true story falls a little flat in achieving the dramatic moments I think it so desperately desires.  Part of the problem is its repetition of Fischer's psychological problems.  While the hammering home of his paranoia certainly paints a vivid picture of his psychosis, chess match met with paranoia followed by chess match met with paranoia is the film's only storytelling impetus.  Tobey Maguire has very little arc for his character to grow from and progress towards as his Fischer is played in a rather one note fashion because of the way the script unfolds.  There are some nice supporting performances from Michael Stuhlbarg and Peter Sarsgaard (Liev Schreiber has very little to do), but their characters similarly do very repetitive things over and over again as they try and get Fischer psychologically prepared for his various chess matches.

It's not that Pawn Sacrifice is particularly boring despite this repetition, but in the end the film lacks excitement (even for those of us like me who aren't familiar with the outcome of the 1972 World Chess Championship).  Director Edward Zwick's film can't overcome a script that lacks in depth character development and progression.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

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