'Pawn Sacrifice': An Under-Appreciated Biographical Treatise on the Life of Bobby Fischer
Pawn Sacrifice (2014) is a thrilling period drama that follows the life of famed chess master Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire), from a humble childhood in Brooklyn, New York through to his famed matchup with Soviet Grandmaster Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) at the 1972 World Chess Championship.
The film captures Fischer’s adolescence as a time of burgeoning mastery of the game, while struggling in a fatherless home and beset by early signs of mental illness. Set during the height of the Cold War, tensions between the United States and Russia play a critical role in the story, as they fuel many of Fischer’s fears and anxieties over perceived Russian spying and surveillance. His paranoia reaches a fever pitch in Reykjavik, Iceland, the site of his famous duel with Spassky for the world championship, leading to an utterly tense, remarkably compelling finale.
With this film, director Edward Zwick (Glory, Blood Diamond) and writer Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises) have crafted a stunningly assured depiction of a real-life genius grappling with fraying sanity, and Maguire is simply mesmerizing as the abrasive and acerbic Fischer. No particular knowledge of chess is even necessary to enjoy this vivid depiction of one man’s historical achievement in the face of profound mental disturbance.
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