By Liz Lopez
Whether or not you are a fan of, or play chess, director/producer Edward Zwick’s feature film about American chess legend Bobby Fischer- Pawn Sacrifice – is definitely a film to watch. It is so much more than watching people play the game. Although Steven Knight’s screenplay does not delve heavily into all the reasons for what lead to the decline in Fischer’s mental health, there are scenes provided for the viewer to know not all is well with the young boy who grows up to be a very intense man. Actor/producer Tobey Maguire’s performance as Fischer is excellent, as he portrays the individual with an emotions brewing and then spewing as he was growing up.
He excelled in the game as a child (portrayed by young actors Aiden Lovekamp and Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick as a boy and teen) in New York. Although I have not viewed Liz Garbus’ 2011 documentary, Bobby Fischer Against the World, and don’t know more about the chess player turned celebrity, I find this fictionalized version is very impressive and satisfying. Fischer’s journey leading to the chess match against the Soviet Grandmaster Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) is quite a whirlwind globe – trotting one.
Knight’s screenplay is about the Fischer-Spassky match during the 1972 World Chess Championship. Both players are intense, had emotional outbursts and as both inched towards the title of world champion; they begin to reveal similarities with their own levels of paranoia. Schreiber also excels in his performance as the Grandmaster who tries to maintain a calm demeanor, but actually is quite volatile himself.
Fischer grew up in a single mother household – Regina (Robin Weigert) – who appears neglectful due to her political activism and possible multiple affairs, at least in Bobby’s assessment. She relies on Bobby’s older sister, Joan (Lily Rabe), to tend to him while she entertains. Bobby is distrustful of almost everyone, but one person he does trust is a Catholic priest, William Lombardy (Peter Sarsgaard), former coach and chess grandmaster. After lawyer Paul Marshall (Michael Stuhlbarg) offers to represent Bobby in his career that clearly shows such potential, the three embark on a path with unexpected twists, turns and demands by the star who is determined to become world champ.
The film takes the viewer to where Fischer succeeds to gain the title, but by old video clips and footage of the new grandmaster, one can see him sink to having almost nothing as he declines in mental health before his death in 2008.
When the camera is on Fischer’s face as he is watching the audience post – win, I believe the scene will stay with me for a long time. It was evident to me he was a very sad individual since his childhood and this shot to celebrity status ultimately did nothing to take away the loneliness evident on his face.