I caught up with Pawn Sacrifice a week or so ago but needed time to ruminate on the film before writing about it. I am a bit of a chess geek with a fondness for Fischer’s game. Fischer himself was off his rocker for a variety of reasons though no one was ever able to really get a handle on his illness because he all but disappeared from society a number of times and ended his life an exile and a recluse. But he had game. Maguire brings Fischer back to life as a vibrant man who could do one thing exceptionally well. His intensity and focus made him somehow great at chess but truly bad at life. He couldn’t maintain relationships nor his own status as chess champ. He was a self-hating Jew who blamed the Jews for society’s ills. Maguire captures Fischer’s intensity and delivers, ultimately, a moving portrait of the complicated Fischer. Here is a clip.
The Best Actor race is booked solid this year, that much we know. Breaking in will be near impossible. Someday people will sift through the ashes of this year and they’ll look back at the performances that didn’t catch enough buzz to get in the race. I suspect Maguire’s will be at or near the top of that list, along with Colin Farrell in The Lobster, Michael Fassbender in Macbeth, and on and on it goes. It’s a good time to be male in Hollywood.
The trick with Pawn Sacrifice is how to build tension over chess moves for audiences who don’t really get chess? Maybe some do, but unless you have studied the game, and more specifically Fischer’s approach to the game, you might not get what the big deal was with Game 6, for instance. That the film doesn’t adequately involve the audience in the suspense of the game itself bothered me at first but in the days since those qualms have evaporated and I’m left with thinking fondly of the film and the performances. Liev Schreiber is fantastic as Boris Spassky, and Peter Sarsgarrd and Michael Stuhlbarg are good as well.