Take a Drink: every time Bobby Fischer walks out on a chess game
Take a Drink: when Bobby talks his paranoid jibber-jabber
Take a Drink: when Bobby loses a chess game
Do a Shot: when Bobby wins a chess game
By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Three Beers) –
In the 1960s-70s Bobby Fischer (Tobey McGuire) was one of the most successful chess players, and the first prominent American chess player to give the Russians a run for their money. Bobby is an introverted individual whose obsession with chess long-ago departed from hobby, and is now a pure obsession. Bobby is also developing a rather paranoid personality, turning the crusade to become a Grandmaster into a battle against Communism.
Bobby’s manager (Michael Stuhlbarg) enables this obsession and his friend/coach William Lonbardy (Peter Sarsgaard) tolerates it. As a result of his unchecked mental disorders, Bobby falls deeper and deeper down the rabbit-hole of insanity, all while challenging Russian Grandmaster Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) to a tournament in Iceland.
This movie’s principal strength rests on the shoulders of Tobey McGuire, who seems totally absorbed in the role of a chess champion. Bobby Fischer’s mental state left him an angry individual, one who channeled this anger and paranoia into racism and blind political hate. McGuire manages the uncommonly difficult task of portraying Fischer warts and all while still managing to instill a degree of empathy. It is clear that Fischer’s illness was the result of unchecked trauma, and without heavy dialogue McGuire succeeds in making the character feel wholly human. One particularly interesting scene shows Fischer juicing oranges at a hotel in New York before traveling to Reykjavik, for deathly fear of being poisoned.
The movie’s ending is abrupt and features a tacked-on epilogue that tells the story of the rest of Bobby Fischer’s life. The film should have been allowed to speak for itself as a story, without needing to spend a few moments with the real life older, crazier Bobby Fischer.
Director Edward Zwick is a capable, dependable working filmmaker. When given solid material to work with, his films are very well served. Where Zwick’s direction falters is in elevating flawed material. In the right hands, the non-linear storytelling style of Pawn Sacrifice would undoubtedly have been re-tooled. As it stands, it feels like a screenwriter trying too hard to make an ordinary biopic feel artistic.
Not everything has to be performance art…
Director Edward Zwick’s character-based biopic may lean a bit too much on Tobey McGuire’s performance, but since it’s a career best for the actor, I’m not quibbling too much.