Movie Review: Pawn Sacrifice
This movie really took me by surprise, I was not expecting much from it as it seemed like a boring story. The acting in this movie was fantastic but with an already tight Oscar race I am not expecting an acting nod, which is sad because everyone in this film acted incredibly. What really set this movie apart is the sound and directing. They help get you in the head of the character and that really pays off and makes for a much better film. I feel like this movie will not get a lot of attention but that doesn't mean you have to miss out. It's one of my favourite of the year, and it had a big mountain to climb to get there.
Pawn Sacrifice is the Bobby Fischer biopic, this movie was released last week in The US but for some reason it wasn’t playing within 100 miles of me until tonight (one of the many negatives of not living in a big town). This movie covers the life of famous America chess player Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) as he tries to take the chess world championship from Russian Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber). This movie takes place during the Cold War so of course this chess tournament has a much larger under-story than just a simple chess tournament. First off I will admit that I am neither a fan of chess or even know of Bobby Fischer’s life. Saying that I now have to say I absolutely loved this movie, they turned a story that I honestly would not have cared about into a something I thoroughly enjoyed.
I usually start with the acting but this time I am going to start with something I usually don’t cover at all, the sound. First off, the soundtrack was amazing, one of the best I’ve heard since Rush or Guardians Of The Galaxy. The soundtrack has some of the best hits from the 60’s and 70’s and that makes for one of the best soundtracks ever. The score was really good too, it played at the right parts and knew exactly when not to play, which leads me to the best part which is the sound editing itself. Because this movie is the story about Bobby Fischer, who has massive paranoia, along with other thing, it relies heavily upon the way images are presented and sound is heard. In order for us to get in the head of Fischer, we hear exactly as he hears it. In certain scenes all the sound is amplified, from a tapping on the window to voices or even just the little sounds a camera might give off. The slightest noise can be a bother to Fischer as he plays and as the movie progresses it starts to get inside your own head and bother you at certain times. The score even cuts out at times so we can hear the little things, a cough in the crowd or just a slight buzz. It is masterfully done and helps you get into the head of this character.
Now let’s talk about Tobey Maguire, he has the difficult job of playing a paranoid, and just all around insane character and absolutely delivers. One thing that really drew me to this movie is the whole troubled genius premise, troubled genius movie like The Aviator (about Howard Hughes who has OCD) really give an actor a chance to show their acting chops and Maguire really pulls it off in a way I would never thought he could before. As I said earlier, a lot of this character was portrayed in the way the movie was directed and edited but lets not take away from what Maguire brought to the table. Last week, I reviewed Black Mass and I mentioned that Depp’s eyes really sold the character of Bulger, Maguire pulls the same exact thing here. As the movie goes on and paranoia really starts to take over you see a transformation of this character. Sure, Fischer was paranoid from the start but near the end it controls everything he does. As we get further along we see as Maguire widens his eyes more and more, he starts to look more and more last as he either stares off in the distance too long or as his eyes quickly jot from place to place. Not only do we see this but we also the physical tremors Fischer gets as anxiety really starts to creep in. In scenes where Fischer is completely overtaken by his anxiety, we seem him start to tremble, his voice starts to get higher and crack, his eyes dart and you can see him start to physically break down. At times it almost feels awkward because it is like watching someone really go through a complete mental breakdown. Maguire delivers on every part of this and I am so impressed to see what he did here.
The only other actor I will really bring up is Liev Schreiber, who plays the world champion Borris Spassky. Schreiber plays a Russian who is the only thing between Fischer and his world championship. Because he is Russian, Schreiber has almost no English spoken parts, even when he does it is maybe a single word. As we start we see Spassky as the world champion, a man who seems to have everything together. He is a cool and collect player who acts more like a rock star than a chess player. Schreiber is great at this as we see him seem to have everything under control, but there are hints when he is in private that there may be something more. We start to wonder if he has some Fischer like qualities. When we finally see him start to break down, of course not as bad as Fischer, it really is impressive to see a man who seems to be in complete control start to lose himself in his own paranoid theories. Schreiber handles this transformation so well and he is believable as both the guy in control and the one slowly losing his head.
The one thing I have heard as a complaint to this is the pacing of the film. Personally, I didn’t see a problem with this though there was only one time I thought to myself “I wish they would have shown more of that”. It is very well written as we go from him being a child, to a teen, and eventually a young man on his way to be champion. Every scene flows well from one to another and even the way the chess scenes were shot were fascinating. This movie kept me so well entertained I couldn’t believe when I looked down and saw that I was already over an hour and a half into this movie. Somehow they make a movie about chess so good that it keeps you on the edge on your seat until almost the last minute.