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Pawn Sacrifice

In 1972, in the middle of the cold war, the brilliant but disturbed American chess wunderkind Bobby Fischer challenges the Russian champion Boris Spasski in the world finals in Iceland. The game becomes a proxy war by the two super powers.


In 1972, in the middle of the Cold War, US chess wunderkind Bobby Fischer challenges the reigning grand master – the Russian Boris Spasski. The competition becomes a proxy war and the pressure on both world-class players is enormous. Fischer loses the first round. He doesn’t even show up to the second one. Instead, he sends a list of demands for the continuation of the compeititon, one of which is shutting all the viewers out and moving the tournament to a table tennis room, the most undisturbed room in the building.
The competition, which went down as the “match of the century” in chess history and Bobby’s background build the narrative backbone of PAWN SACRIFICE. The content is filled with the highly explosive mix of politics, genius, madness, and: chess.
Tobey Maguire plays Fischer as a nervous genius, highly sensitive, impatient already as a child – we once see him hissing at his mother for making too much noise for him to concentrate – ambitious, arrogant, and on the brink of a breakdown. The 20 year old listens to anti-Semitic propaganda tapes in his free time (though he himself is Jewish). He is convinced that the Russians can watch him through the TV and he often destroys hotel rooms looking for bugging devices. Both of his coaches, a patriotic lawyer and a chess-playing priest, notice Fischer’s unstable condition. They react with more chess and more pressure. When Fischer threatens he won’t go to Reykjavik, Henry Kissinger himself calls him. Boris Spasski – congenially played by Liev Schreiber – is a man of the world who can calmly deal with the demands of his regime. But you can sense the tension on him too: the tiredness due to the chess circus and his eyes which gleam with nerdy madness as he calculates millions of possible moves.
Both players are representatives of a system they have no control over and their pillars are the two world powers, the chess league FIDE, the media, and the nerve-wracking game itself - they are pawn sacrifices. And they know this too. PAWN SACRIFICE begins briskly, snazzily, and playfully. Bobby’s difficult childhood and rise as a champion is in the background. The Russian delegation’s visit to California plays almost like a comedy as they get a taste of capitalism with big cars, sunglasses, and luxury suites while Fischer only gets a shabby hotel. Bobby’s success also increases his popularity – Bobby Fischer triggered a small chess mania in the West – and his paranoia. When Fischer and Spasski finally sit across each other, the question isn’t only who will win but whether Fischer will be able to keep it together.

Toni Ohms

Translation: Elinor Lewy


Original title: Pawn Sacrifice
USA 2014, 114 min
Genre: Drama
Director: Edward Zwick
Author: Steven Knight
DOP: Bradford Young
Montage: Steven Rosenblum
Distributor: StudioCanal Deutschland
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Liev Schreiber, Michael Stuhlbarg
FSK: 6
Release: 28.04.2016


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