In this gripping true story set during the height of the Cold War, American chess prodigy Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) finds himself caught between two superpowers when he challenges the Soviet Empire. Pawn Sacrifice chronicles Fischer’s terrifying struggles with genius and madness, and the rise and fall of a kid from Brooklyn who captured the imagination of the world. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Willie J. comments, “Tobey Maguire gives the performance of his career. His nuanced, detailed and invested performance as Bobby Fischer provides most of this movie’s appeal.” Will S. adds, “The story in Pawn Sacrifice is exciting, interweaving Fischer’s personal struggles with paranoia and the incredible tension of the Cold War.” See their full reviews below.
By Willie Jones, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 16
I had no expectations going into the film. Biopics are really a 50/50 sort of deal, especially today. Biopics have been recycling the same plots for years now, so the only thing that can separate them are the performances and style of the director. Pawn Sacrifice is different from other biopics for those very reasons.
Tobey Maguire gives the performance of his career. His nuanced, detailed and invested performance as Bobby Fischer provides most of this movie’s appeal. He never loses his intensity in the movie and is motivated with every decision he makes as an actor, so his character’s decisions seem just as assured and focused. Audiences are naturally drawn to that.
Maguire is supported by Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, and Michael Stuhlbarg. They all give fantastic performances, but they’re all layered. That’s my favorite thing about them. They aren’t one dimension and they don’t fall by the waste side as many supporting characters in biopics do. They’ve got their own passions and motivations and side effects to the plot and all that good stuff.
Secondly, and most importantly, the number one thing that keeps us invested is the story. Since I’ve seen the movie, I still can’t quite put my finger on why it is as addicting as it is. I have gone over it in my head continually and as I piece the themes together I finally get a common theme: obsession. The characters in this movie are relentless in their journey. But that’s not enough. There are plenty of bad movies with motivated characters. So I asked myself about the style of the movie. It features some nice editing but it isn’t anything special.
Finally, I went to the main focus of the movie: chess. That’s what keeps us involved. It’s the fact that, probably for the first time in our lives, most of us are witnessing chess taken so seriously. In this movie, we see chess as more than a board game. In this Cold War set movie, chess represents America vs. the Soviets. It represents escape and fulfillment. Those kinds of stakes for a game we often pass over takes us by surprise and we can’t help but get drawn in.
Actually, as I walked out of the theater, I heard someone comment, “This movie made me want to play chess.” It didn’t have the same effect on me, but I can see how it might have.
With that said, the movie does get off to a rocky start, including a sequence when they show Bobby at age 12, which is pretty bad. I understand that Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick is a young actor, but he wasn’t very good. It was very one note and not believable. It actually seems out of place among the rest of the movie. I mean, it doesn’t help that the dialogue is really bad for that portion and doesn’t get the film off to a great start. But when it picks up a head of steam, it keeps you on the ride.
I give this movie 4 1/2 out of 5 stars and I recommend it for ages 10 to 18. It opens nationwide on September 16 so check it out.
By Will S., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 14
The story in Pawn Sacrifice is exciting, interweaving Fischer’s personal struggles with paranoia and the incredible tension of the Cold War. Pawn Sacrifice stars Tobey Maguire, Liev Schreiber and Peter Sarsgaard. Directed by Edward Zwick, it follows the story of Bobby Fischer who is trying to become the best chess player in the world during the tense Cold War period of the sixties and seventies. He goes up against thousands of opponents and beats them all in order to play the best player of his time, the Soviet Boris Spassky, at the 1972 World Chess Championships in Reykjavik, Iceland.
The cast in Pawn Sacrifice portray their characters exceptionally well, especially Liev Schreiber as Boris Spassky. Though I didn’t want to root for the Russian, I felt much more sympathetic to his character than Bobby Fisher’s. Tobey Maguire is convincing as Bobby Fischer, but Fischer’s personality is so paranoid, irritating and selfish and he treats others, including those who love him, so badly, that he is unlikable and hard to root for.
Though I root for the U.S. to win, Fischer’s personality leaves me torn. As the movie progresses, I start to like Boris Spassky more and more. Liev Schreiber makes Spassky a sympathetic character. Spassky is calm and even understanding of the mental-emotional struggles Fischer is going through. Bobby’s friends are also enjoyable characters and are always there to help him through the tough games.
Since the Cold War never escalates into full-blown military battles, cultural competitions between the Americans and Soviets, such as the race to the moon, this chess match, and the miracle on ice, are high-profile confrontations. With that background, the plot keeps you intrigued all the way through and puts you back in that tense, scary time period by interspersing old news footage throughout the film. On a personal level, the portrayal of Fischer’s deteriorating mental state is realistic, but sad. Even though he completes the historic match, his personal demons get the best of him in the end.
If you watched, listened to, or read about this chess match live in 1972, I think you will love this movie. If you didn’t see the match, you will still be gripped by the history and the passion of all the characters involved. I would give Pawn Sacrifice a four out of five stars and recommend it to ages 14 to18.