Pawn Sacrifice (USA, 2016)

Directed by: Edward Zwick. This was another airplane viewing, but I count it as a minor victory because usually I gravitate towards the dumbest shit on airplanes, and this looked pretty decent from the outset. And…it is! I didn’t know anything about Eddie Fischer, or this match, or the game of chess broadly speaking, but it looked interesting because I like the idea of being a “chess guy”, and I hadn’t see Tobey Maguire in a few years so I wanted to see how he was doing. This kind of role is perfect for him, a role where he gets to be the pretty boy, but not a nice guy, he gets to be bombastic and rude and in the end, deeply troubled. For that matter, this was an interesting film because, like the other great “based on a true story” story I saw recently, the facts of reality don’t really lend themselves to convenient Hollywoodization. There’s definitely a good amount of tension building as Fischer struggles to play against Boris Spassky (an amazing turn by Liev Schreiber), and in the process become progressively worse in his symptoms of schizophrenia, turning against his own team. His team do a great job too, between Peter Sarsgaard as the sage priest (especially after just seeing him as a cartoon villain in Magnificent Seven only minutes previous), and Michael Stuhlbarg as his manager, who I love in everything I’ve seen, from Boardwalk Empire to A Serious Man, but which he never gets enough recognition for. He basically carries this movie, because the way Fischer comes off in the movie, he’s pretty unreasonable, and he kind of alienates everyone around him, and the way Sarsgaard plays the priest, with such detached cool, it’s really left to this poor manager to frantically try to get everything done, reconcile Bobby’s increasingly crazy demands with the needs of promoters and advertisers, to make Bobby all the money he’s making. It’s great that it’s Stuhlbarg in this role, because just as this character is sorely under-appreciated in the movie, Stuhlbarg is sorely under-appreciated in Hollywood. Definitely a good film to see if you’re into sports movies, chess movies, psychological drama, or just good acting.

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