Monday, September 28, 2015

[Review] Pawn Sacrifice

We've officially entered the Oscar season, so that means a lot of biopics and "Based On A True Story" films are on the way--some will hit the right spot, and others will be sleepy Blahs. Pawn Sacrifice, which stars Tobey Maguire as American chess sensation and complicated character, Bobby Fischer--is mostly a winner.

After opening with a scene of Bobby (Maguire) stressfully tearing apart his hotel room in search of bugs (the hidden microphone kind), we flash back to his childhood and witness his rise as a chess prodigy, as well as his resistance to being raised in a communist household. When he joins the ranks of the best chess players in the world as an adult, he and his lawyer/agent (Michael Stuhlbarg) and a priest (Peter Sarsgaard) set out on a chess tournament tour around the world. The film follows Fischer's chesscapades, extreme bouts of paranoia, and his rivalry with Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber), as well as his personal battle against the Russians in general.

This could've been a brooding and dense (and yes, boring) experience, but thankfully it's way more accessible than anticipated. You don't have to know a lot about chess or Fischer's story to become engaged. There are subtle bits of humor, and the film moves at a fast pace as Fischer establishes his Rock Star status. His antics are emphasized: He shows up late for matches. Sometimes he just disappears all together. He makes odd requests. And he frequently yells at people. The filmmakers don't paint him as particularly likable, but he's interesting, and that's what matters here.

I've never been that high on Tobey Maguire's work, but he's impressively excellent here, and I don't think it would be farfetched to say that this is the best performance of his career. Sarsgaard and Stuhlbarg bring their 'A' games as well, particularly Stuhlbarg who continues his great run (seriously, his filmography is amazingly consistent and his turn on "Boardwalk Empire" is awesome). They're quite the amusing trio to watch. Aside from the solid performances, there's also some stellar dialogue throughout. A couple of choice exchanges: "Bobby has problems. / So did Mozart." and "Bobby's going to break. / He won't break. He'll explode."

Pawn Sacrifice might not have enough oomph to make it stand out from the heap of other Oscar hopefuls, but it's still a solid move.


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