A Check Mate Of Interest

Pawn Sacrifice (2015) 
A Review By Ben Hunter
4½ Out Of 5 Stars


If you can intensify a chess game, then you’ve check mated my interest!


Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) surveys the competition, pawn to 4.  He is the only American amongst a sea of Russians in the tournament.  One of them being world renowned champion Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber), black king’s pawn to 5.  As a child prodigy working his way up the ranks into adulthood, Bobby has earned his seat in play.  However, he notices how all The Russians seems to be at an odds together and wonders the same about them rightfully earning their seats.  He looks left, white pawn takes black king’s pawn 5, and hears the whispers amongst the team of trainers of Moscow.  He looks right, black queen’s pawn to 6, and hears the scraping of papers, the tapping of pencils, and not to mention the rattling of the lights as they buzz his concentration slightly out of focus.  White pawn takes pawn 6.  This doesn’t phase Bobby.  He’s quite bored with his immediate opponent in front of him.  He’s way more concerned with the conspiracy in his head that the Russians somehow are working together in this tournament.  Black bishop takes pawn 6.  For if they keep their wins to a certain number, they can add up the amount of points and average them out for the necessary wins by their top players.  White pawn to 3, black queen takes pawn 5.  Bobby now has a look of concern on his face.  White knight to pawn 3, Bobby sees his opponent as well as the others participating exactly as he demanded … he starts to shake!  He’s had enough!  “Black queen takes pawn 3, check; white pawn to 3, black bishop check mates white king!”  Bobby utters as his opponent freezes in guilt having not moved a muscle.   

Bobby declares the divisiveness of the conspiracy of The Russians in front of the press in the lobby.  How they’re used to winning and this is how.  A system is in place.  This is also the beginning of Bobby’s paranoia.  The beginning of the end of an excursion of shoulder watching and delusional chess derangement that sends Bobby over the edge.  An expedition that takes shape and we get a glimpse of just how controlling it was during the 1972 World Chess Championship.  Where game 6 is considered the greatest chess game ever played.  Its ferocity and intellectual capacity has never been check mated … ever since!  

Boris Spassky (L) and Bobby Fischer (R) prepare for the chess version of a worldwide heavyweight boxing match.
Director Edward Zwick (The Last Samurai, Glory, Defiance, Love & Other Drugs) shuttles us through this excursion through Bobby’s head as he takes on the Russians.  The complicated task of intensifying the suspicion was at hand here.  To make a series of chess games interesting to people who know very little about the game.  Then to educate them about the subject matter, such as the history of how Bobby gave America excitement and hope as they cheered him on as the first American born player to participate in the world renowned tournament.  Just a kid from Brooklyn putting America on display as the only American there.  The task was to educate us about the game as well, and just like then as America was given inspiration and hope through Bobby, I too wanted to pick up a chess board in these moments of hope.  

James Newton Howard’s score helped tremendously in increasing the suspense.  Once I noticed his name in the credits, my questions about why the music was so good went away.  This was a major reason why I wanted to know every move and the next one thereafter.  

Maguire and Schreiber gave exceptional performances to increase the tension.  The facial expressions of entanglement with their thoughts, carefully trying to figure out the next move played a key part in keeping my interest engaged.  Maguire, our hero, kept me invested in his character’s interests as I was sad to see him slowly deteriorate.  The supporting roles of Michael Stuhlbarg and in particular Peter Sarsgaard helped keep my interest as well.  Their expressions as greatness was being achieved set the mood to emit the correct emotion.  

This was a very thought provoking, suspenseful, psychological thriller.  A biography of how the mind is definitely a terrible thing to waste.  So nurture it, cherish it, and challenge yourself to be the best version of yourself!  

Don’t check mate into defeat.  

Pawn Sacrifice
Biography/Drama, 113 Minutes, PG-13
Story By: Stephen J. Rivele & Christopher Wilkinson, and Steven Knight
Screenplay By: Steven Knight
Directed By: Edward Zwick
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Liev Schreiber, Michael Stuhlbarg, Robin Weigert, Lily Rabe, Sophie Nélisse, & Peter Sarsgaard

Popular Posts