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pawn_sacrificePAWN SACRIFICE

Directed by Edward Zwick / Written by Steven Knight / Starring Tobey Maguire, Liev Schreiber and Peter Sarsgaard

Bobby Fischer: I’m all about the game.

In the jurassic days of yore, celebrity status was bequeathed to people who were actually skilled at something, unlike today when the media pays too much attention to folks caught on tape doing things that almost ruined Rob Lowe’s career back in his day. Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King used their status to introduce millions to tennis. An unknown Burt Reynolds hopscotched to fame with a cheeky centerfold picture but immediately followed through with a letter perfect performance in DELIVERANCE. But no one had a bigger, worldwide impact than Bobby Fischer and what he did to elevate the game of chess when he and Boris Spaasky from the USSR met in Iceland in 1972 to play a series of matches to determine who was the Ultimate chess master. Even I, who didn’t know the difference between a rook and the horsey thing, was transfixed in front of the family television set, glued to a spectacle that’s even more boring to watch than golf. Director Edward Zwick’s (LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS) latest picture, PAWN SACRIFICE, attempts to capture that electricity but is nowhere near as riveting as the game itself was.

Tobey Maguire plays Fischer with maniacal arrogance. He’s twitchy and bug-eyed and his arms flail often in delusional fits of paranoia. It is a polarizing screen performance that I liken to Nicole Kidman’s in THE PAPERBOY. I still don’t know if I should give him an Oscar or Razzie nomination for Best Actor. The criminally under-used Liev Schreiber, as Spaasky, fares better. Spaasky knows the match is more than just a series of chess moves; it is to show the world which country is the dominant power,  The U.S.A. or the USSR. Sarsgaard, as Fischer’s chess coach, who happens to be a priest, registers nicely but just doesn’t connect.


The only thing I genuinely loved about PAWN SACRIFICE is its genius attention to detail. It is the most authentic looking movie that is set in the early 70’s I have seen in some time – from the clothing to the frames on the eyeglasses. A scene where director Edward Zwick digitally replaces Fischer with Maguire in a televised interview with Dick Cavett works beautifully. But one goes to the movies to not only leave raving about the art direction. PAWN SACRIFICE is no match for its subject matter.

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