By Christian DiMartino
Edward Zwick is a severely underrated director. He is one who, for decades, has made plenty of prestigious projects (Blood Diamond, Legends of the Fall) that never really got their day. His latest film, Pawn Sacrifice, will follow in this tradition.
It is a real shame that Pawn Sacrifice won’t get any awards traction, because it is a very good film. Not quite Best Picture worthy, but since this year has simply been amazing, it will probably be left in the cold entirely. A shame, honestly, because it features an excellent performance from a well known actor that would probably be a shoo-in if the competition wasn’t so fierce.
I, unfortunately, wasn’t around in the 1970s, but Zwick appears to capture the times so well, I felt as if I was there. The film tells the true story of Bobby Fisher, beginning in his younger years when he was a Chess prodigy, and leading to his adulthood (in which he is played by Tobey Maguire).
When he is older, he lives up to his promise. The film focuses on a Chess match between him and a Russian named Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber), during the Cold War. Fisher might’ve been a genius, but yet his genius came with a price.
He happened to be mentally ill, and the film captures his mental illness very well, showing his detachment from family and friends, and his constant paranoia. Michael Stuhlbarg plays his manager, Peter Sarsgaard plays his priest friend/mentor, and Lili Rabe plays his sister. All great work.
The performances in this film are quite stellar. Particularly from Maguire, an actor who is typically just known as Spider-Man. Understandable, yes, but not fair. Did you see the movie Brothers? He was terrifying, underrated perfection in that film, and he does so yet again here. It’s the kind of performance that demands Oscar attention, but sadly won’t make the cut.
I have never been a fan of Chess, but watching them go at it is something of a mild thrill. There are times when I am glad I wasn’t alive in the 70s, mostly because when I see a film like this, I don’t know the outcome. This is yet another recent biopic that tells a story I am unfamiliar with, and am perfectly fine with that.
Fisher’s story, while triumphant, is ultimately tragic at the same time. The reason why I wouldn’t quite consider Pawn Sacrifice a great film is because I felt like it needed a bit more of… something. I feel like a bunch of Zwick’s films, no matter how good they may be, are missing this something. Perhaps it is an attachment. Fisher is certainly a fascinating man, but I couldn’t really connect with him.
Whatever, I am probably just talking crazy. Pawn Sacrifice is a very good film. Since it isn’t getting recognized at any of the awards shows, we can call it something of a hidden gem.