There’s no shortage of films focusing, in one way or another, on the tragic story of chess master Bobby Fischer and his descent into madness. It’s a fascinating and a sad story and well-suited to dramatization. This one features stately direction from Zwick, direction that captures long shots and extreme close-ups of the minutia of both the game of chess and the way Bobby sees the everyday world. There’s a wonderful cast. The often overlooked Michael Stuhlbarg is perfect as a harried government bureaucrat and Peter Sarsgaard is wonderful as an increasingly troubled friend of Bobby’s, an ex-competitor turned priest. Of special note is Liev Schreiber as reigning world champion Boris Spassky; it’s a performance wrapped up in silence and image. We see Spassky most often from a distance, incredibly cool in his dark glasses and confident in his stride. It’s a performance that requires charisma and Schreiber has it in spades. As the film goes to its end, he remains often quiet, but it’s easily Schreiber’s best work in years. Maguire is also really good as Fischer. I went into the film expecting the “neurotic genius” routine; we’ve all seen Maguire play awkward nerds, struggling to exist in the real world, and he’s good at it, but his Fischer isn’t that at all. He’s an arrogant, preening man, prone to the temper-tantrums of a diva, or perhaps a child. Even before the madness begins to infect him with anti-Semitism, he’s a thoroughly distasteful man, abrasive and unlikeable. It’s a bold choice to focus an entire film on a character this unlikable, but it really works. By the end of the film, I wasn’t exactly rooting for him, but he and Spassky were too fascinating to look away from as they play for the World Championship in Iceland. It’s a really gripping, very entertaining movie. I’m not entirely sure Maguire is the best person for the role; another actor might have been able to go even deeper into Fischer’s arrogance and madness, but that’s not really a slam as Maguire isn’t bad in any way. Regardless, I loved this movie. 4 stars.
tl;dr – a wonderful cast and excellent direction turns real-life story of chess master’s madness into gripping, compelling and entertaining cinema. 4 stars.