These “transfer” reviews are from when I only did reviews on my Facebook page back in 2015. Bare in mind when reading these, I didn’t have the same formula in my review writing that I do now, and my usual “who starred and who directed” information is completely absent, so everything “italicized” is new. With that said, enjoy this review from 2015.
Kind of a short story as to why I saw this movie. I only found out about it maybe a week ago, but it looked pretty interesting from its trailer and I was gathering that there was a bit of positive buzz flying around it, so I had my interest in seeing it. Tobey Maguire, Liev Schreiber, directed by Edward Zwick of BLOOD DIAMOND and THE LAST SAMURAI, yeah I’m on board. Bought my ticket before the next wave of movies came out, so here we go.
Cast: Tobey Maguire (THE BOSS BABY ), Liev Schreiber (ISLE OF DOGS , MY LITTLE PONY , THE 5TH WAVE , CREED , and upcoming films SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE  and A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK ), Michael Stuhlbarg (THE POST , THE SHAPE OF WATER , ARRIVAL , and upcoming films GORE  and SHIRLEY ), and Peter Sarsgaard (THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN , JACKIE , BLACK MASS , and the upcoming GARETH JONES )
Director: Edward Zwick (JACK REACHER 2 , and the upcoming TRIAL BY FIRE )
Writer: Steven Knight (ALLIED , BURNT , and upcoming films SERENITY  and THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB )
Composer: James Newton Howard (RED SPARROW , DETROIT , THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR , CONCUSSION , and upcoming films THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS  and FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD )
Cinematographer: Bradford Young (STAR WARS: SOLO  and ARRIVAL)
Editor: Steven Rosenblum (THE PROMISE  and THE BIRTH OF A NATION )
This is my honest opinion of: PAWN SACRIFICE
The back drop is during the Cold War. Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) is a young chess prodigy who quickly climbs the ranks of competitions all over the world and beats some of the best. His toughest opponent is the Soviets, more specifically, Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber). But believing that the Soviets are secretly working together to force their opponents into draws (Bobby HATES draws), he briefly announces his retirement, not just from chess competitions, but from chess altogether. This random burst of outrage and defiance is short-lived as soon as a self-proclaimed patriotic lawyer named Paul Marshall (Michael Stuhlbarg) approaches him and asks him to continue to play chess, not for himself, but for his country. The belief here is that if Bobby wins the big upcoming chess tournament, it would be a great boost of American propaganda to use against the Soviets.
I actually feel a little guilty writing this review, mostly because I kind of fell asleep watching it. Not that it was bad, mind you. Far from it, actually. I had woken up fairly early that morning and had a fairly long day at work. The fatigue must have gotten to me because as soon as the second half of the movie hit, I was fighting to stay awake. I doubt I missed enough to warrant a second viewing, but that hasn’t happened to me since EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS. But I’m confident I can write this with objectivity and clarity.
First off, as I said, I really enjoyed this film. Maguire is such a great presence on screen as a paranoid and focused chess player and makes you seriously bounce between how to feel about his character: is he a crazy bastard that needs a straitjacket, or is he a sympathetic genius chess player? Although, there could be an argument that Bobby Fischer is just a diva who wants things his way or he’ll throw a tantrum and essentially say “fuck the world” but as the story progresses, you see that he does seem to have mental issues. Not that this excuses his actions, especially later on in the movie, but he’s such a likable and charismatic character that we do want to see him win the chess competition. Maguire is definitely the shining star here, given the most to work with and he delivers wonderfully.
I also really appreciate what was done with the character Paul Marshall. I kept expecting him to turn into one of those cliché characters that enter the protagonist’s life with the intention of making them bigger than life, only to get greedy and only want more when the protagonist is content with less, and becomes an antagonist. I’m happy to say that wasn’t the case here. Paul seems to genuinely want to see Bobby become champion of the chess tournament and will do whatever he can to see him succeed. This isn’t to say that the man doesn’t have his own agenda. He definitely makes it clear that Bobby’s victory over the Russians would be a great propaganda tool, but he’s never annoying as a character or crosses any particular line to get what he wants. The stakes are there and this is what needs to be done, but Bobby is constantly making things more aggravating or difficult, so you really feel for him when he starts to fly off the handle.
I consider myself to be a fan of Schreiber, but he is criminally underused. I mean, he’s great with what he’s given. There’s this scene where Bobby wakes up on the beach and sees Boris coming out of the water from a swim and is about to leave, not knowing that Bobby is nearby. Bobby sees him and still sore after his loss against Boris, Bobby starts screaming at him from a distance. Fairly relentlessly too. But it’s hilarious because as Boris is walking away, he’s staring at Bobby with this look that reads: “You’re a bat-shit crazy American lunatic, and I have no idea what you’re saying.” Boris doesn’t say anything back to him, but that look is just priceless. I wish there was more of that, but the point of the movie is that this is Bobby’s story. I suppose any dedication to Boris would have made the movie as a whole unfocused, so I can’t fault the movie for that. But it’s still bizarre that the movie kind of taps into the idea that Boris might be just as mentally insane as Bobby, when he starts displaying paranoia that the KGB is watching him, just like Bobby thinks his government AND the KGB is watching him as well. It’s a great idea (or maybe just a controversial one) that maybe geniuses that play chess are inherently crazy. It does seem a mite curious how the two most prolific chess players of their generation, debatably of all time, are both paranoid and of the same thing. But again, this isn’t the focus.
Overall, this is definitely a surprisingly good film. In fact, I think it’s very good. I should probably give it a second watch when it gets out on Netflix because I do hate it when I fall asleep watching movies. Recommended if your a fan of the cast and the time period.
My honest rating for PAWN SACRIFICE: a strong 4/5