<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Edward Zwick. Starring Tobey Maguire, Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg, Lily Rabe, Robin Weigert
Running time: 1 hour 56 minutes
The parts about the world’s greatest chess player Bobby Fischer going paranoid weren’t that impactful and the parts where he played World Champion Boris Spassky, his Russian opponent weren’t that interesting.
From when he was a wee lad little Bobby Fischer was told that the government was spying on him and his mother (Robin Weigert) for their suspected Communist connections. Bobby retreated into his love of chess and soon became the youngest Grand Master in the world. But he wanted to beat all the Russians and then take on the reigning World Champion, Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) during a time when the Cold War desperately put pressure on the Americans to get a big win for their side.
But Fischer’s paranoia about being watched, bugged and followed made him a very unstable element. So in come lawyer Paul Marshall (Michael Stuhlberg) and mentor Father Bill Lombardy (Peter Sarsgaard) to rein him in and make sure he gets all his unreasonable demands before he considers playing.
Bobby Fischer comes across as a grown up child, running away from tournaments when he doesn’t get his way. He’s disturbed by the humming of a camera or someone coughing in the audience and listens to propaganda against Jews and Russians. And he’s constantly checking his phone for bugs, which sort of gets tiring after watching him do it more than five times in the film.
Then there are the matches between the two champions that unless you’re a chess player yourself, you’ll never really get since the tension only mounts when Fischer gets up to complain about the sounds that are disturbing him. It’s only funny when his otherwise unflappable but confused opponent Spassky eventually catches Fischer’s paranoia to have his own chair X-rayed!
Peter Sarsgaard as the former chess champ who knew Fischer and must now control the spoilt brat is very good in his role. We’ve seen him in Black Mass this week too where he was equally impactful.
Pawn Sacrifice is way too repetitive and boring unless you’re someone who is interested in chess or Cold War history to get an insight into how the mistrust of the era infiltrated sports as well.
PS: Yes it’s based on a true story.