Thursday, December 14, 2017

Pawn Sacrifice

Directed by Edward Zwick and screenplay by Steven Knight from a story by Knight, Stephen J. Revele, and Christopher Wilkinson, Pawn Sacrifice is the story about the legendary 1972 chess match between the American chess champion Bobby Fischer against the Soviet Union’s Boris Spassky at Reykjavik, Iceland. The film is a dramatic account of the match as well as a look into the early life of Bobby Fischer who was considered a prodigy as he’s played by Tobey Maguire with Liev Schreiber as Spassky. Also starring Lily Rabe, Michael Stuhlbarg, Robin Weigert, and Peter Sarsgaard. Pawn Sacrifice is a compelling and haunting film from Edward Zwick.

The film follows the life of American chess champion Bobby Fischer as he is to face the Soviet Union’s grandmaster Boris Spassky in a game to determine who the world’s best in the game of chess is. Steven Knight’s screenplay doesn’t just follow Fischer’s early life as a young boy obsessed with the game to the point that he would be the youngest grandmaster in American chess but also considered the most gifted player of his generation. Yet, Fischer’s obsession would also lead to his own mental deterioration as much of the film’s narrative takes place during the 1960s to the climatic 1972 world championship match against Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland. During the course of the film, Fischer would call in former chess champion in Father William Lombardy (Peter Sarsgaard) to accompany him as his second and an attorney in Paul Marshall (Michael Stuhlbarg) to handle his business dealings as well as Fischer’s demands.

While Fischer would play several of the Soviet’s top chess grandmasters, he wants to face Spassky as his attempt to confront him during the Soviets’ visit to Santa Monica falters due to his paranoia as would another attempt at match in Europe. Upon choosing Iceland, Fischer almost never shows up because of the press coverage and he becomes more unhinged during the first game due to the sounds of the camera and the sound of a crowd watching the game. The script showcases that sense of paranoia where Fischer’s older sister Joan (Lily Rabe) tells Marshall to have her brother be sent to a hospital for evaluation where he’s already gaining delusions of grandeur and claims that the Soviets and the Jews are after him which baffles Marshall who knows that Fischer is Jewish. The script does have some faults as it relates to its sense of time with the exception of the second half as it relates to the match in Iceland though there are some historical errors in which Marshall claims to represent Jimi Hendrix only two years before Hendrix had even released an album.

Edward Zwick’s direction does have bits of style in terms of the way he would present television coverage of the Fischer-Spassky match yet would maintain something very straightforward for the rest of the film. Shot mainly in Montreal for the scenes set in Brooklyn, New York and other parts of the city with the scenes of the Fischer-Spassky match shot on actual location in Reykjavik, Iceland and scenes shot in Los Angeles. Zwick would capture a period in time where so much is happening yet Fischer lives in a world that is simpler away from Vietnam, Flower Power, and popular music as he is also more concerned with playing chess in the park or at chess clubs with other chess players. Much of the direction has Zwick favor more intimate shots in the close-ups and medium shots as it play into Fischer’s growing sense of paranoia while there are some wide shots of some of the locations.

The usage of TV footage of various interviews that Fischer gave during the height of his fame is sort of re-created to showcase the sense of enjoyment he has but also his growing disconnect with reality. Even in the climatic series of chess matches against Spassky where it’s got an intimacy in the direction and compositions as it play into Fischer’s own sense of paranoia and the need to get into Spassky’s head. Overall, Zwick crafts a compelling and fascinating film about the real-life chess match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky and the events that lead to this event.

Cinematographer Bradford Young does brilliant work with the cinematography in the look of the exteriors with its usage of low-key blue and green for the scenes in day and night as well as the usage of low-key colors for the interior scenes. Editor Steven Rosenblum does excellent work with the editing as it has some stylish montages into Fischer’s ascent into the world of chess as well as some rhythmic cuts to play into the methodical approach of the chess players in their movements on the board. Production designer Isabelle Guay, with head set decorator Paul Hotte plus art directors Jean-Pierre Paquet and Robert Parle, does amazing work with the sets from the motel in Santa Monica where Fischer and his small entourage live in to the Brooklyn apartment that is his home as well as the house he would live in Reykjavik. Costume designer Renee April does fantastic work with the costumes as it is mainly straightforward in contrast to the period that the characters are in as they mainly wear suits with the exception of Father Lombardy and some of the female characters in the film.

Visual effects supervisor Alan Munro does terrific work with the look of the old TV footage and how the actors are integrated into the old footage as well as some set-dressing for some of the locations. Sound designer Lon Bender does superb work with the sound as it play into the sense of paranoia in Fischer over the things he claims to hear as well as the atmosphere of some of the places that he plays at. The film’s music by James Newton Howard is wonderful as it is this low-key orchestral score that play into the drama as well as some of the suspense as it relates to Fischer’s paranoia while music supervisor Steven Rosenblum provide a soundtrack that play into the time period with contributions from the Spencer Davis Group, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jefferson Airplane, Carl Perkins, the Ventures, Al Green, and the Doobie Brothers.

The casting by Andrea Kenyon, Victoria Thomas, and Randi Wells is incredible as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Evelyne Brochu as a young woman that Fischer meets and befriends at Santa Monica, Conrad Pla as Fischer’s chess teacher Carmine Nigro, Sophie Nelisse as the young Joan Fischer, Aiden Lovekamp as the young Fischer, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick as the teenage Fischer, Brett Watson as the chief arbiter Lothar Schmid for the Fischer-Spassky match, and Robin Weigart as Fischer’s mother Regina who is estranged from her son due to her Socialist views as she wants to be there for him but finds herself continuously pushed away. Lily Rabe is fantastic as Fischer’s sister Joan as a woman who is concerned about her brother’s mental health as she is aware of the things he says where she knows he’s losing it. Michael Stuhlbarg is excellent as Paul Marshall as an attorney who would become Fischer’s agent in ensuring that Fischer gets paid and be given certain demands as he also deals with Fischer’s erratic behavior.

Peter Sarsgaard is brilliant as Father William Lombardy as a former chess champion turned priest who becomes Fischer’s second and closest ally who also watches what is happening to Fischer as he is aware of the mad obsession Fischer has for the game. Liev Schreiber is amazing as Boris Spassky as the Soviet grandmaster who is the epitome of cool as someone that is good at chess while knowing what Fischer is trying to do where he also succumbs to his own bit of paranoia. Finally, there’s Tobey Maguire in a phenomenal performance as Bobby Fischer as the famed chess prodigy who was considered the greatest chess player in the United States as he wants to defeat Spassky in the hope he can be the best while succumbing to his own paranoia and delusions that would lead to his mental deterioration where Maguire displays that anguish and despair in that man.

Pawn Sacrifice is a marvelous film from Edward Zwick that features a great performance from Tobey Maguire. Along with its supporting cast and a look into the events that lead to the legendary chess match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. It’s a film that showcases a man and his obsession to be the best that would eventually cost him his mind. In the end, Pawn Sacrifice is a remarkable film from Edward Zwick.

Edward Zwick Films: (About Last Night) – (Glory (1989 film)) – (Leaving Normal) – (Legends of the Fall) – (Courage Under Fire) – (The Siege) – (The Last Samurai) – (Blood Diamond) – (Defiance (2008 film)) – (Love & Other Drugs) – (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back)

© thevoid99 2017

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