Pawn Sacrifice - movie of the 1972 match

by Albert Silver
6/11/2015 – Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky are coming to a theater near you in a film based on the life of the recluse genius and his epic 1972 showdown for the world title. Whatever one may think of it, the all-star cast leaves nothing to be desired, with Edward Zwick, director of The Last Samurai, and Tobey Maguire who championed the project for ten years.

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Films on chess are few and far between as a rule, and that is to be accepted as understandable. Even chess players realize that for all its glamour, it is not the easiest topic to translate to the silver screen for the non-playing public.

The official movie trailer of "Pawn Sacrifice" (2015) 

The screenplay by Steven Knight was zeroed in by Tobey Maguire a decade ago, and as he himself explains, it was the idea of portraying a character as complex as Fischer in a sports environment that fascinated him. One of the challenges he will be facing of course, in terms of acceptance, is breaking past the image of his role as Peter Parker and the high-profile Spiderman trilogy that pushed him to the top of the pecking order. Some actors are better able to handle this break from a standout character or role than others. Ask Leonard Nimoy how difficult it can be.

Tobey Maguire as Bobby Fischer

Edward Zwick (director) and Tobey Maguire (producer/actor) talk about "Pawn Sacrifice" 

As to his counterpart, Boris Spassky is taken up by Liev Schreiber, also famous as a comicbook character, but less marked by it than his colleague. It isn’t just that Victor Creed, Wolverine’s brother, had less impact overall, but that Schreiber sports Spassky’s trademark hair, a very different appearance to his other roles, which help smooth the transformation.

Liev Schreiber plays Boris Spassky

Bringing it all together is director Edward Zwick, whose credentials include the epic Legends of the Fall with Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins, or The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise. He is no stranger to grandiose films with larger-than-life stories, and it remains to be seen whether this will be enough to make the film the success all chess players hope it becomes. Young players such as Magnus Carlsen have certainly gone a long way into helping make chess sexy, but there is nothing quite like a box office hit.

A young Bobby Fischer is first discovered

Some lovely sets promise quality production values

Pawn Sacrifice was first screened at the Toronto Film Festival last year, where it was still trying to find a distributor for the production. For that very reason there were no film posters or trailers available, and the screening was to showcase and market the film.

The official poster

A number of newspapers and magazines posted reviews of the film based on that initial screening with positive but slightly mixed opinions.

Variety wrote, "Zwick does what he can to render an inherently uncinematic activity onscreen in as stimulating a manner as possible, focusing compulsively on shots of the players clicking their game clocks back and forth, the pieces shifting forward one move at a time (sometimes in dramatic black-and-white inserts). Scenes of Fischer and Lombardy running through practice games in their heads, rapidly reciting board moves at each other, convey merely a hint of the mental agility required to understand the game in all its permutations and possibilities, let alone to master it. Absent the ability to really get the audience’s heads in the game, the film succeeds better at presenting chess as a subtle metaphor for the psychological warfare being waged behind the scenes."

Still, it is quite possible the film will undergo further edits before its release in September in the US. Whatever the case, it is not a movie any chess player can afford to miss.

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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