Skip to main content

Taron Egerton Is Playing Elton John In Biopic 'Rocketman'

Movie Review: 'Pawn Sacrifice'

The well-acted but dull Pawn Sacrifice does nothing to the elevate the game of chess.

Review by Matt Cummings

The game of chess is more than the strategy on the board, but the war going on inside the minds of the opponents. Analyzing moves and counter moves is just part of the neuroses which makes a chessmaster, sometimes resulting in odd quirks and even destructive psychological disorders. And while the Bobby Fischer biopic Pawn Sacrifice encapsulates some of that into a professional production, it relies too much on the personal struggles which its players endure, rather than balancing it with the brilliance of the game.

Arguably the greatest chess player in the world, Prospect Heights-born Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maquire) is also its loudest. Raised in a Communist household at the height of The Red Scare, a young Fischer turns to chess as a way to calm his distracted mind. But controversy and disappointment are never far behind, as years later he loses a vital match against a team of Russians without meeting their master Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber). Fast forward to 1972, and Fischer has dropped out of the public eye, until his opponent-turned-priest-turned-trainer (Peter Sarsgaard) and lawyer/manager (Michael Stuhlbarg) get him back into professional competition. Soon, the cantankerous Fischer is demanding a rematch against the cool Spassky, which takes both to a classic showdown in Reykjavik. The result will make history, but seal the fate of at least one of these champions.

There's something definitely missing from Pawn, as if Director Edward Zwick was close to checkmate but had to settle for a draw. Performances by Maquire and Schreiber are solid, and Zwick has a handle on the look of the time. But unlike Ron Howard's terrific Rush - which put a slick edge to 1970's Indy Car racing - Pawn lacks that sense of style, plodding through drama as if it's stuck in mud. More importantly, Pawn fails to celebrate the timeless sport of chess itself, making each move seem pedestrian and uninteresting. I wasn't expecting to see chess turned sexy, but Zwick takes no initiative to the teach the audience about the game or to make the pieces anything more than silent witnesses. I wasn't expecting the figures to jump out and start speaking, but Zwick could have shot the play better, choosing unique overhead and closeup angles to get the audience more involved. At the film's beginning, I was convinced Zwick was about to hand us a masterpiece, as Fischer imagines each move, which becomes diagrammed on the screen. But, that magic simply disappeared.

Maquire does his best as the snippy and unstable Fischer, whose paranoia of literally everything around him leads to his ultimate demise. But in it, Zwick and Co-Steven Knight take the wrong path, choosing to highlight Fischer's upbringing instead of the epic chess series and the effect it has on Fischer's spiraling neuroses. There was even a re-match of the two titans years later that I think could have provided for better drama than the stolid few glances Schreiber and Maguire eventually exchange. Surprisingly, they're in few scenes together, which burn white-hot and represent the film's best scenes. There's a mix of both 70's-era classic rock and a nice score by Composer James Newton Howard, but it's not enough to press the slow-burn strategy of Pawn into something magical.

In the end, Pawn Sacrifice is saved by its solid performances, but is constantly hampered by a lack of style and grace, two elements that make chess so appealing. It screams Oscar bait, but this King will have to take a draw.

Pawn Sacrifice is rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexual content and historical smoking and has a runtime of 114 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


Popular posts from this blog

Taron Egerton Is Playing Elton John In Biopic 'Rocketman'

Regular listeners to the Empire Podcast (sorry about the whole Call Me By Your Name theme ear worm, incidentally) will recall that we had Taron Egerton as a guest on the 300th episode, recorded in front of an audience on Valentine's Day. He talked up his hope that Elton John biopic Rocketman would finally come together, and now Paramount is closing a deal to finance and distribute the film worldwide.

The film, which has been through at least one previous incarnation (Michael Gracey directing Tom Hardy in the lead) is reuniting the Eddie The Eagle team of Egerton, director Dexter Fletcher and producer Matthew Vaughn, who has been trying to get the movie made for a while, with Elton's blessing and the support of his company, Rocket Pictures.

Featuring a script by Lee Hall, Rocketman will follow the career of the artist formerly known as Reginald Dwight, from a prodigy at the Royal Academy of Music to a global superstar, through his influential and enduring musical partnership w…

New #DISOBEDIENCE Clip Featuring Rachel Weisz & Rachel McAdams

Disobedience follows a woman as she returns to the community that shunned her decades earlier for an attraction to a childhood friend. Once back, their passions reignite as they explore the boundaries of faith and sexuality. Written by Lelio and Rebecca Lenkiewicz and based on Naomi Alderman’s book, the film stars Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams and Alessandro Nivola.

Discuss this with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms Please Leave A Comment-

ISLE OF DOGS & Wes Anderson Launch CrowdRise Campaign To Benefit @bestfriends

Every day, more than 4,100 dogs and cats are killed in America’s shelters, simply because they don’t have safe places to call home. Best Friends Animal Society is a leading national animal welfare organization dedicated to ending the killing. They believe that by working collaboratively with shelters, rescue groups, other organizations and you, we will end the killing and Save Them All by 2025.

6 people will win the full set of 6 figures
These sets are 6 of only 100 ever made
They will NOT be sold in any stores
These figures were designed and hand finished in London by the same puppet makers who created the puppets for the film
Each set comes with 5 dogs and Atari
This is your chance to own a piece of Wes Anderson and "Isle of Dogs" history

Every $10 is a chance to win, so $50 = 5 entries

Click Here for the official CrowdRise page.

No purchase or donation necessary to enter or win

Discuss this with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms