Director: Edward Zwick
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard
The narrative is padded with enough dramatic flourishes to keep you hooked
Pawn Sacrifice is a fascinating drama, a biopic of sorts, that sheds light on the life and career of America’s most valued asset during the height of the cold war.
And it’s not a weapon of mass destruction I am alluding to, but a homegrown champion whose mastery over the game of 64 squares put the chess giants, USSR, on the back foot.
Based on a true story, the film highlights the life and career of world chess champ Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) who went in as an unheralded challenger and from there wins the world chess championships in 1972 decimating every Russian Grandmaster along the way. The final match between Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) and Fischer is the centrepiece of the drama that draws its strengths from the eccentricities and deteriorating mental condition of the challenger from Brooklyn.
The opening series of global news reports inform us that the American grandmaster Bobby Fischer has willfully failed to show up in Reykjavík, in 1972, for one of his world-championship matches against the reigning Boris Spassky. The narrative searches for reasons in Fischer’s boyhood life; flashback to 1951 and recap to significant events in young Fischer’s life. An ordinary Brooklyn boy with a stubborn, withdrawn personality, he is in possession of a great gift.
Steven Knight’s script marks up every highlight through Fischer’s ascendancy, including his childish battles with the World Chess Federation and his potentially career crippling refusals to play by the rules. Fischer plays like a brilliant musician hitting the off keys when it counts the most and at the same time, tightening the screws on his opponents when they least expect it.
It’s a virtuoso performance and director Edward Zwick manages to invest the narrative with enough dramatic flourishes to keep you engaged. Maguire puts in an earnest and intuitive performance that showcases Fischer’s troubled mindset. But it’s Schreiber, who really stands out here as Spassky the reigning world champion invested with all of the USSR’s might to quell the challenge of the upstart. It’s a pensive, thoughtful performance that stands out when pitted against Maguire’s Fischer, the belligerent genius. Michael Stuhlbarg, Peter Sarsgaard and Robin Weigert lend stellar support to the ongoing dramatics.
The film ends with old video footage of Fischer's real life moments to give the montage sequences more weightage in the run-up to his eventual demise in 2008.