Maguire may catch you in his web, but the film itself may leave you unsatisfied
In chess, once you’ve made your first move, you have over three billion possible combinations to choose from. Bobby Fischer may have known about each and every one of them, and managed to choose the best possible one in a limited amount of time.
Pawn Sacrifice is a biopic depicting the life of the chess master—exposing Fischer’s genius, as well as his slowly unraveling undiagnosed mental illness, which essentially holds him back from possibly achieving even more than he had already achieved as a young man.
Pawn Sacrifice stars Spider-Man—I mean Tobey Maguire—as the game-changing Bobby Fischer and Liev Schreiber as Fischer’s biggest rival, Boris Spassky. The film covers Fischer’s life in the 1970s as he studies in hopes of one day trouncing Spassky and becoming the first American chess player to be considered the best in the world.
The cast was the film’s saving grace. Especially Maguire, who proves that he is more than just the man behind the mask. Rather, he is someone who can compete with Hollywood’s elite when it comes to the “best actor” candidates at the Academy Awards. Watching Maguire portray Bobby Fischer’s paranoia, dedication and egotistical personality was the most entertaining part of the film. Maguire will sadly be overshadowed by the likes of Johnny Depp and Michael Fassbender come awards season, but his performance in Pawn Sacrifice should serve as a cautionary reminder to everyone that he has the chops to hoist the most prestigious award in film sometime in the near future.
Unfortunately, this film suffers from a disease I just invented called “biopicsafeobia,” which can be described as being just like every other run-of-the-mill biopic that has ever been released. This causes it to lack any kind of originality that would make it stand out to audiences and Academy voters. Unfortunately, the whole film is just utterly forgettable. At times, I felt like the director slowed down the pace, especially in the middle of the film, which caused me to shift in my seat and immediately become less interested in the Fischer story.
Overall, I would have to say the performances by Maguire, Schreiber and Peter Sarsgaard were the saving grace of this film. Without them, I feel like I would have said, “meh” and been unable to write this review because I wouldn’t have remembered a thing. I left the theatre amazed by the fact that one man changed the perception of chess, turning it into a sport the whole world would stop to watch.
One just can’t help but wonder what else Fischer would have accomplished had his undiagnosed mental illness been cured, or never manifested itself in the first place. My final score for the film is three stars out of five, one star for each actor’s stellar performance. Hopefully, filmmakers will see this as an opportunity to find a new way to break new ground on the tired biopic genre.