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Review: Pawn Sacrifice

September 25, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Pawn Sacrifice Poster

An engaging character study that affectively explores the fine line between genius and madness, Pawn Sacrifice is simply a solidly crafted biopic and historical drama.

Back in 1972, Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) was on top of the world, a young prodigy from Brooklyn who rose to fame to become one of the greatest chess players of all time, going up against celebrated Russian Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber).

But this match becomes about much more than just pieces on a board, representing nothing less than a battle between America and the Soviet Empire, and this extreme pressure starts to take its toll on Bobby Fischer’s already tortured soul.

With Father Bill Lombardy (Peter Sarsgaard) acting as his coach and mentor, and lawyer Paul Marshall (Michael Stuhlbarg) negotiating the terms of his demands for every tournament, the suspense ratchets up as Bobby Fischer becomes increasingly paranoid and unstable, under the intense scrutiny of the public eye.

Directed by Edward Zwick, the film authentically recreates many of the famous chess matches and the increasing mental illness of Bobby Fischer, with close attention paid to period details and the Cold War paranoia of the time.  The production design and costumes add a sense of realism to the 1970s setting of the film, and the sharply written screenplay keeps things moving at a mostly compelling clip.

Anchored by one of Tobey Maguire’s best performances, and an equally excellent supporting cast, Pawn Sacrifice is a respectful and well made biopic, that does justice to its material and real life subject.  And it would also make a great double bill with the 2011 documentary Bobby Fischer Against the World.

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