|Tobey Maguire stars as Bobby Fischer in Edward Zwick's PAWN SACRIFICE, a|
Bleecker Street release.
Credit: Takashi Seida
2015, 114 minutes
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexual content and historical smoking
Review by Joshua Handler
Edward Zwick’s Pawn Sacrifice is, narratively, a standard biopic, but rises above other biopics due to its immaculate craft and the quality of the performances. The film tells the story of genius chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer, his declining mental health, and his rivalry with Boris Spassky of Russia during the Cold War.
As Fischer, Tobey Maguire gives the performance of his career, creating a character that’s alternately despicable, intriguing, pitiful, impressive, and sad. Maguire is a recognizable actor who frequently portrays ordinary or weak men who either turn into someone extraordinary (The Cider House Rules, Spider-Man) or are out of place in extraordinary circumstances (Pleasantville, The Great Gatsby). In Sacrifice, he is a weak man with a powerful mind. Maguire is forceful and unpleasant, yet heartbreaking. Peter Sarsgaard and Michael Stuhlbarg also give strong supporting performances.
Many will criticize the film for being so narratively conventional, yet while there isn’t much structurally that sets the film apart, it doesn’t matter since it flows nicely and immersed me into the world of Bobby Fischer. Many biopics are like “greatest hits” versions of their subjects’ lives instead of explorations of the subjects’ personalities and souls. But, writer Steven Knight delves deeply into the inner of world of Bobby Fischer, allowing us to understand him, even if we can't always sympathize with him.
Knight’s solid script combined with Zwick’s confident, well-judged direction make this an exhilarating ride. Everyone involved with this film seems to have faith in Zwick’s clear vision and turns in high-caliber work. Steven Rosenblum’s editing is particularly sharp and keeps Pawn moving at a clip for just about all of its nearly two-hour running time.
Also of note is Bradford Young’s typically rich cinematography. Young is one of the most exciting cinematographers working today, having shot some of the most visually striking films in recent memory such as Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Selma, A Most Violent Year, and Vara: A Blessing, and his rich, eye-popping work on Pawn gives the film a polished quality that makes viewing it an unusually pleasurable experience.
Overall, Pawn Sacrifice is a very good piece of filmmaking that left me completely satisfied. It's a dramatic thriller that actually thrills and should please most audiences. So often nowadays I see films that are technically accomplished that fail to satisfy on most levels. Pawn Sacrifice satisfies by telling a complete, engaging story with melancholic undertones that builds to a simultaneously triumphant and tragic conclusion.