Starring Tobey Maguire (Bobby Fischer), Liev Schreiber (Boris Spassky), Michael Stuhlbarg (Paul Marshall), and Peter Sarsgaard (Father Bill Lombardy)
Directed by Edward Zwick
Written by Steven Knight
Rated: PG for coarse language and tobacco use
On DVD – Dec. 22, 2015
Chess is supposed to be the game of kings, right? Well, it’s also a game about lesser players i.e. the pawns. But what makes a lesser player into a greater player and vice versa?
I grew up knowing about the famed match between Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer – the Cold War played out on a chessboard between Russia and America. It happened the same year as when Paul Henderson scored that magical goal so that the Great White North could best the USSR in the fabled Summit Series of hockey. That’s Canada for you. You get to know everything about hockey as an indoctrination. For the life of me, I never really knew who won between the two chess players, however, or even what the story was. Thankfully, a new movie (now out on DVD) has filled in a few gaps for me.
Fischer was apparently an obsessed child who couldn’t let go of the game. Naturally, he grew up to be an obsessed man so there’s something to be said for practice and finding your path in life, I guess.
Eventually, he comes to face the world grandmaster Spassky (played by Liev Schrieber, ever the imposing and intimidating character). Now, I’m not going to beat around the bush with you. America loves its sports movies. Its underdogs who rise about the Goliaths to become champs. Chess is not generally regarded in the same breath as American football but in this movie the comparison is apt. This is the sports movie for the intellectual, for the loner obsessed with piano keys and intricate drawings.
Now, I’m not really a fan of Tobey Maguire. That whole Spider-Man thing… yech. But here he’s right in his element playing a rough around the edges genius who is about to enter the contest of his pre-30-year-old life. Taking on Spassky would be a crowning glory, if you’ll excuse the evocative imagery.
Maguire and Schrieber are well-suited for their roles here (and supporting players Michael Stuhlbarg and the always excellent Peter Sarsgaard too) but it’s really director Ed Zwick who takes the glory for his ever-masterful depictions of underdogs in classical battles, either mortal or intellectual such as this one. I’ve enjoyed 99% of the films of his that I’ve seen. I enjoyed this one. He somehow manages to capture the mad genius of Fischer while never cutting short on the thrill of all that incredible chess action. Okay, that was a little tongue in cheek, but honestly, that was a helluva interesting story.
Yes, it was that good. Maybe there were one or two little things that I would have changed about it but I’m not going to pick over the little details. I mean, I love movies but I’m not obsessive about them.