Pawn Sacrifice

Neither the cold war nor the game of chess are inherently cinematic. Put them together and what do you get? Yawn Sacrifice, that’s what.

Tobey Maguire plays Bobby Fischer, an American chess player so cocksure and full of demands you’d think he’d mistaken chess for rock n roll. Actually, it’s just his mental illness talking. As his nt_15_pawn-sacrifice-1handlers (Peter Sarsgaard and Michael Stuhlbarg) try to reign in the crazy, he’s busy representing America The Great against the powerhouse (of chess) that is the Soviet Union during the height of the cold war (his biggest foe is played by Liev Schreiber). Winning is his patriotic duty.

Tobey Maguire gives a big, showy, emoty performance that I wasn’t totally convinced by. I think I’m just kind of over Tobey Maguire, to be honest. I much preferred Liev Schreiber for his restraint (an underrated talent, in my opinion), and Sarsgaard for his composure. To be fair though, it’s hard to really show Fischer’s particular brand of madness. Some insanity makes for great movie making, because the acting out is fun (think Silver Linings Playbook, or Girl, Interrupted). But a lot of mental illness is much more quiet, more sitting in a dark hotel room taking apart telephones while muttering to oneself. Realistic, sure, but not exactly entertaining.

But the biggest question you have to ask yourself is this: would you pay to go see a chess Pawn01match? Did you know that chess is a spectator sport? I couldn’t have imagined it since I think chess is a real bore. I knew how to play, briefly, when forced to learn during library period in a Catholic elementary school that couldn’t afford actual books. I understand it’s about strategy, out-thinking your opponent, and analyzing the board for its near-infinite possibilities (you can imagine how this kind of constant processing could push anyone to the brink of madness). But I just don’t get how that’s fun. I don’t want to do it, and I don’t want to watch others do it, and bottom line: I don’t want to watch Tobey Maguire pretend to do it. Director Edward Zwick tries to play this like it’s a true sports film, and it’s just not. The drama’s not there. This film didn’t work for me.

Peter-Sarsgaard-og-Tobey-Maguire-i-Pawn-Sacrifice1Whether you’ll like it depends on whether you respond to watching someone’s sanity be sacrified for a board game, all in the name of patriotic duty. And – spoiler alert! – (okay, it’s not that spoilery since this is history) America wins the match AND the cold war (supposedly), but then casts poor Bobby aside, revoking his passport and citizenship, even. Because that’s the kind of stand-up country they are. They’ll use up the last of your sanity, and then leave you to die alone, a sickly recluse and fugitive – and then fight your relatives for your estate when you die. You’re a class act, America.

 

 

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22 thoughts on “Pawn Sacrifice

  1. Sean

    Great review. This movie was super boring. The only entertaining aspect were the strange sort-of laughs that kept coming from the lady in front of us, which eventually encouraged others in the theatre to start making equally strange sounds. And the thing is, there are no funny parts to this movie. None. So I’m not even sure any of it was supposed to be laughter. But I don’t know what else it could have been.

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  2. Mark Walker

    As much as I’m catching your vibe here, Jay, in actually a big chess fan and find it captivating to watch. I totally understand when people don’t though. It can be a bit like watching paint dry. That said, I seen a film from the 90’s called “Searching For Bobby Fischer” or “Innocent Moves” as it was known in the Uk. Either way, it was fabulous like film and really struck a note with me. I’m hoping this film will too. 🙂

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  3. Tom

    Damn and double damn. The first damn is that this review quickly confirmed my fear that this movie might not be able to overcome the inherent boringness of the sport of chess (calling it a sport feels kind of generous, actually 😉 ), and the second damn is for Tobey Maguire not being that good. Another thing I was concerned about. I love you included that picture of him apparently losing his mind (again). When he goes all scream-face like that it’s all but impossible to take that guy seriously. lol

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      1. Tom

        Peter Parker clocks out of his Spiderman shift and goes around the block to start balancing out his physical stress with hours of monotonous boredom and psychological . . . fuckery

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  4. Birgit

    I vaguely recall the actual chess match-I think I was only 8 at the time but it must have been a huge deal if I remember it. I remember how much the States loved winning over Russia. This film sounds very….dry. Obviously the director must love chess to centre so much on that rather than go in a different direction. I agree that Liev Schreiber is truly under-rated

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yay, Liev!

      And yeah. I get that Bobby Fischer probably has a good story to tell, but this didn’t do it for me. Maybe the director just didn’t feel he could re-tell the big hockey game between the US and the Soviets – circa 1980 maybe? I don’t love sports movies generally, usually pretty cliched, but they do love to harp on their victories against the ruskies!

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    1. Jay Post author

      I wouldn’t say it’s big up here either, but being in North America, we get all the big American releases, for better or worse, or chess.

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      1. Khalid

        Well I always liked him from Spider-Man and he’s had some great early roles in Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm and Wonder Boys, but I guess I became a fan of his because of the Spider-Man movies

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  5. Christopher

    Years ago I read a Martin Amis essay about a series of major chess matches between two grand masters, Karpov and Karimov, that went into some of the history of the matches between Karpov and Fischer. It was really fascinating. It was fascinating because of the personalities involved. They could just as easily have been playing tiddlywinks because what was so fascinating was the psychological pressure the players put on each other.
    Yeah, I really had high hopes for “Pawn Sacrifice”, but I think I’ll give this one a pass.

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    1. Jay Post author

      The only thing I like is the title. Bobby Fischer is the pawn, of course, he just doesn’t realize it yet. It was really disturbing to watch his sanity get sacrificed, and in the end, it’s hard to say for what.

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  6. reocochran

    I will see this,eventually since I lived through the period of time when Bobby Fischer was a hero, of sorts. My Dad loved chess, I learned an adequate amount of skills. If Tobey couldn’t get you to relate this is too bad. He has good acting skills, demonstrated in his serious and sometimes quirky roles. Maybe Bobby F. was not so nice?

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