The Private Files Of J. Edgar Hoover

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The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover

Release Date: December 1977

Genre: Biography, Drama

Director: Larry Cohen

Writer: Larry Cohen

Starring: Broderick Crawford, James Wainwright, Michael Parks, Dan Dailey, Jose Ferrer, Celese Holm

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Recently, the film world lost an original and innovative auteur. Larry Cohen was known in the industry as a guerrilla filmmaker. He made his movies outside of Hollywood with no permits, no permission and no rules. His films tackled many issues from African Americans in society, to marketing and consumerism, from hidden agendas, to the effects chemicals and pollution have on human beings. He was a pioneer in the Independent film industry. You can easily tell a Larry Cohen movie by the style and substance. His movies have lived on to this day with legions of fans continuing to watch them.

For the month of May, ‘Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review’ will be looking at five of Larry Cohen’s movies. Some may be familiar to fans of certain genres. Others are overlooked gems that don’t get much attention in his filmography. Although Larry Cohen is most famous in the world of horror, I did my best to not make all five movies horror based. The first movie I will review is one that doesn’t get much attention in the discussion of Cohen movies. It’s a semi-biographical film about the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, J. Edgar Hoover and how he molded and shaped the United States Government’s biggest investigative agency that is effective yet controversial. The first film in the Larry Cohen Tribute Month is 1977’s ‘The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover.’

‘The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover’ is a well-crafted semi-documentary style drama about the United States’ top chief law enforcement. For his nearly fifty-year career, Hoover was the top cop in Washington. He served under eight United States Presidents starting with Calvin Coolidge and ending with Richard Nixon.  He became the nation’s ‘Top Cop’ at the age of 29. The film shows him taking on mobsters, communists and people within his own government. His brash and unorthodox style of tackling crime earns him a reputation that is feared not only by criminals, but people within the government. Anyone that would dare test his power would be subjected to wiretaps and blackmail. With the power came suspicions and paranoia which is shown through several scenes throughout the movie, especially when he is a room alone with a woman.

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The title of the movie comes from the files that Hoover was known to have kept regarding his adversaries. He was known to have information on everyone from his subordinates to Presidents. Larry Cohen depicts how Hoover deciphered the information he had on people and used it to discredit them or ensure that his power remained unchecked. The best example of this is a scene involving Hoover and Martin Luther King, Jr. (played by Raymond St. Jacques). Hoover is determined to unmask Dr. King as a fraud which creates a tension filled moment when the two confront each other in the offices of the FBI.

Academy Award Winner Broderick Crawford stars as the titular icon that is Hoover. Crawford is the spitting image of Hoover on screen. He is stoic, and stone faced throughout the movie as you follow along with him as he goes deep into his head thinking, planning and executing his strategies. Everything he does from his tone of dialogue to mannerisms are all associated with the real J. Edgar Hoover. Crawford nails Hoover’s slumped forward posture and authoritative voice. It’s an incredible work of method acting I haven’t seen since Peter Weller’s performance in ‘Robocop’ or Michael Moriarty’s portrayal of Jimmy Quinn in another Larry Cohen film, ‘Q: The Winged Serpent!’ James Wainwright plays Hoover in his early years in the department and he is as exceptionally good. Wainwright’s Hoover deals with taking on the mafia, mainly pursuing John Dillinger and engaging in a popularity struggle with Melvin Purvis, the man who would take Dillinger down.

In addition to Crawford, there are some great supporting performances most notably from Dan Dailey as Clyde Tolson, Hoover’s right-hand man and most trusted confidant. They are joined at the hip and seem inseparable which sparks the rumors from the press about their relationship being more than professional. Jose Ferrer plays Lionel McCoy another trusted liaison in Hoover’s inner circle is the quiet one of the bunch, but carries out the rules and regulations of the department as Hoover demands and Celeste Holm has a small performance as Florence Hollister, the wife of an ambassador whom tries to seduce Hoover which backfires as Hoover will not do anything that could leak to the press nor destroy his reputation at the bureau.

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If you read my review of ‘Black Caesar’ (another great Larry Cohen film), I mentioned that on of the things that makes Cohen stand out from the rest of filmmakers is his ability to ‘steal shots’. Cohen shoots his movies on location and without permission. To avoid getting caught by authorities, he would place cameras out of plain sight and shoot what was there. When the movie first began production, Cohen shot in the streets of Washington. They wanted to shoot inside several government buildings including the FBI. They were easily rejected when the request to shoot came up. However, first lady Betty Ford intervened when she found out who was in the movie. Mrs. Ford was a former dancer and was a huge fan of actor Dan Dailey, who plays Hoover’s eventual successor Clyde Tolson in the movie and invited him and Broderick Crawford to the White House for lunch. At the luncheon Dailey and Crawford explained how they were here to make a movie. When they told her some of the places they would like to shoot, President Gerald Ford gave Cohen permission to shoot inside the FBI. With that permission, Cohen was able to shoot scenes inside the FBI (including Hoover’s office and offices of others) as well as the FBI Outdoor Training Grounds. What you saw in the movie was the real deal. No sets, no shooting in other locations, nothing.

The only thing that stood out to me in terms of the negatives of the movie is the casting. Most of the actors cast in the movie didn’t look or act like the character they were playing. Michael Parks plays Robert Kennedy who doesn’t look anything like him however he did give considerable effort getting that thick New England accent down. Howard Da Silva as FDR, William Jordan as JFK, Andrew Duggan as LBJ and Richard Dixon as Nixon (Funny right?). None of those men had the look or personality of the president they were portraying. If Jon Voight as FDR, Martin Sheen as JFK, Bryan Cranston as LBJ and Frank Langella as Nixon are considered the Coca-Cola of presidential portrayals, these guys in this movie would be the Diet Rite version.

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If you’re looking to start watching Larry Cohen movies, you may want to watch this after you’ve seen some of his more popular work. When you get to ‘The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover’, you may look at biopic films in a new light. I personally believe this is a better representation of Hoover than Clint Eastwood’s movie ‘J. Edgar’. Crawford’s performance keeps your attention focused at everything he does and how he became the most powerful person in government. With that power comes corruption and there’s plenty of things that show it in the film. It may change your opinion on Hoover depending on how you feel about him today.

With that the first review in the ‘Larry Cohen Tribute Special’ is now complete. I will be posting a new review each week until the end of the month. For updates on postings, please be sure to follow my page here on WordPress or you can follow me on Twitter @GPCRMovies. I’ll see you soon with the second review in our special.

 

TRIVIA

  • Director Larry Cohen wanted to film at various authentic locations but was repeatedly turned down for permission. However, when First Lady Betty Ford – a former dancer – found out that Dan Dailey was in Washington to make a film, she invited him and Broderick Crawford to the White House for lunch, as she had always liked Dailey’s films and work. Larry Cohen then started calling locations such as the FBI’s training facility in Quantico, Virginia, and said that he wanted to film there but couldn’t do so the next day because the cast was having lunch at the White House; likely supposing that the film had official backing, every location soon made themselves available.
  • Several people who were real-life acquaintances of J. Edgar Hoover are featured in the film, including the barber who regularly cut his hair and his regular waiter at the Mayflower Hotel.
  • This was Jack Cassidy’s final film, issued one year after his death at age 49.
  • The film cast includes three Oscar winners: Broderick Crawford’, Celeste Holm and José Ferrer; and three Oscar nominees: Rip Torn, John Marley and Ronee Blakley.
  • The film had a formal screening at the Kennedy Center, but members of both parties in the largely political audience were irritated by the film’s unflattering depiction of not only Republicans such as Richard Nixon, but also Democrats such as the Kennedys and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Going To Miss Having My Room Searched

Hoover’s Entry Into The FBI

The Boy Scout

Just A Clerk

Top Cop

There’s No Romance In A Dead Rat

I’ve Always Kinda Liked Post Toasties

You’re Always There

Why Don’t You Come In And Ask Her To Dance?

You’re His Boss

I Needed The Exercise

His Time Has Passed

Got A Lot Of Important People To Spy On

Now They Call Me A Senile Old Man

They Haven’t Got Us Out Yet

Couple Old Ferries

We’re Spying On Everyone

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The Long Riders

 

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The Long Riders

Release Date: May 16, 1980

Genre: Biography, Crime, Western

Director: Walter Hill

Writers: Bill Bryden, Steven Smith, Stacy Keach, James Keach

Starring: David Carradine, Keith Carradine, Robert Carradine, Stacy Keach, James Keach, Dennis Quaid, Randy Quaid

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

 Perhaps the most overlooked filmmaker that I can think of in recent memory would be Walter Hill. While he’s most known for being a writer and an executive producer most notably with the ‘Alien’ franchise, he has several well-known movies that he directed throughout the 70s and 80s. You may have seen a movie from these eras not realizing that it was done by Walter Hill. Does ‘The Warriors’ ring a bell? How about ‘Streets of Fire?’ I’m sure you have seen the Nick Nolte/Eddie Murphy buddy comedy/crime film ‘48 Hours!’ Hill has created films from different genres that have a unique look and style that help tell the story of what he is trying to convey. One movie in his filmography that has always stood out to me is his 1980 Western Crime movie ‘The Long Riders!’

Featuring an ensemble cast of acting brothers, the movie depicts the James-Younger gang and their outlaw antics after the Civil War. Throughout the state of Missouri, they rob banks, trains and stagecoaches. The leaders of the gang are Jesse James and Cole Younger followed by their brothers. Their antics would lead to the Pinkerton agency, led by Mr. Rixley being hired to capture the outlaws. Some of the tactics they use to get information regarding the gang go haywire to the point that the gang seeks vengeance on the agents. As the gang prepares their biggest heist in Minnesota, tensions start to flare within the gang. Would they be able to overcome their objections and hostility towards each other to pull off their biggest score? Or will they crumble under the pressure of not only the law right behind their tails, but what impact their deeds have had on their families?

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‘The Long Riders’ was an ambitious project of actor James Keach. After he and his brother Stacy played The Wright Brothers in the television film of the same name, James came up with the idea of doing a movie about Jesse James and his gang with James playing Jesse and Stacy playing Frank James. After several years, James and Stacy ponied up much of the funding to get the film made. For the rest of the gang, they enlisted the Carradine brothers to play the Younger family. David Carradine played Cole Younger, Keith Carradine played Jim Younger and Robert Carradine played Bob Younger. For the Miller brothers, James enlisted the Quaids to fill out those roles with Randy Quaid play Clell Miller and Dennis Quaid playing Ed Miller.

The concept of having real life acting brothers play brotherly characters in a movie is ingenious. All the performances are not only different in personalities, but contemplative of each other and throughout the movie. James Keach and David Carradine as the leaders of the gang show off their leader mentality with James being the architect of their plans. While David Carradine’s Cole Younger is a man who likes to gamble, drink and have fun in between robberies, James Keach’s Jesse James is always serious and straight laced. All he thinks about is his family and his next score. Keith Carradine’s portrays Jim Younger as a handsome, charismatic gunslinger who is a genuine smooth talker. His issue in the film involves the woman he is in love with who ends up taking the hand of Ed Miller against his advice. Robert Carradine’s Jim Younger is the babyface of the group and Robert plays it with ambition and friendly. He’s so friendly he shakes the hand of the man whose stagecoach is being robbed by them. Randy Quaid trades his comedic chops for a brute intimidating portrayal as Clell Miller whose loyalty is only to the gang and not to his brother Ed, which you’ll see throughout the movie. Dennis Quaid has the less screen time out of all of them for reasons that are depicted early in the film. The screen time he does have involves a triangle he has between his wife and his gang.

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‘The Long Riders’ is the most historically accurate film of the James Younger gang I could think of in a long time. Hill’s real intention is to present us with a gang of three families of brothers and get us to accept them on their own terms. We see the gang not only as rough riding outlaws, but devoted family men which gives the characters a sense of heart.  The movie starts out at the height of their notoriety and ends with its untimely downfall. Not only is the timeline of events sequential, but Walter Hill manages to show the customs of life in post-Civil War times. There is a concentration on familiar rituals as funerals, family reunions and relationships between loved ones, but also on common Western rituals such as brothels, saloons, knife fight challenges and of course the robberies.

The music and cinematography only heightened the authenticity of the movie. The original score was written and performed by Ry Cooder. He is best known for his ‘roots’ music style with an emphasis of using slide guitar techniques. There’s plenty of guitar, harmonica and fiddles to fill your ears as you immerse yourself in each scene. The look of the film is rustic, yet beautiful. From the green pastures of Missouri to the tiny towns, to the rivers and forests, you’ll be amazed at the open landscape that is depicted throughout the film.

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And what is a Western without action? Nothing. ‘The Long Riders’ has plenty of action. You have vindictive shootouts between the gang and the Pinkertons. You have train robberies, bank robberies and stagecoach heists that are filled with tension and humor. And there is a knife fight between Carradine and the husband of a hooker he knows complete with both biting down on a belt as they try to slash each other. The action weaves into the story with fluidity. Some of the deaths are gory for a Western movie. There’s no skimping of blood or bullets in the scenes.

‘The Long Riders’ may not have a lasting impact among the mainstream Western movies, but this is one of the more memorable ones I could think of in a long time. There’s never a dull moment or a scene that drowns out long. It keeps your eyes forward at the screen as you watch the journey of the Cole Younger gang and its ultimate fall like the Corleone family in ‘The Godfather!’. Walter Hill delivers a sympathetic piece to one of the most notorious gangs in American history.  To Hill, good and bad aren’t on opposite sides of the coin; they share the edge.

 

TRIVIA

  • Dennis Quaid broke his nose during the making of this film as he did three years later on Tough Enough (1983).
  • The roles of Jesse James and his son, little Jesse, are played by father and son, James and Kalen Keach.
  • Originally Jeff Bridges and Beau Bridges were going to play the Ford brothers, but they could not fit it in their schedules.
  • Stuart Mossman, who played the “Engineer,” was a renowned guitar maker and friend of the three Carradine brothers, who all owned Mossman guitars.
  • In order to make the movie, David Carradine forfeited his customary profit participation and the Keach brothers gave up their profit percentages as executive producer in order that the Carradine brothers got the same amount of profits. When the film went over its $7.5 million budget, the Keaches forfeited their executive producer fees.
  • The film features an uncredited appearance by Ever Carradine, daughter of Robert Carradine and niece to David Carradine and Keith Carradine.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Standing Guard

You Got Nice Hands

Women

When You’re Old Enough To Call Yourself A Lady

Shelby Weren’t At Cole Harbor

Jesse James Rides With The Youngers

How Come I Wasn’t Invited?

Fire Away And Fall Back

Amazingly Stupid Question

What’s To Know About Robbing A Bank?

On Your Way To Hell

Pinkerton Man

Tell You Something About Texas

Any Visitors While I Was Gone

Family Man

Take The Damn Bank

 

Ironclad

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Ironclad

Release Date: July 26, 2011

Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama

Director: Jonathan English

Writer: Jonathan English (Story & Screenplay), Stephen McDool (First Screenplay), Erick Kastel (Co-Screenplay)

Starring: Paul Giamatti, James Purefoy, Brian Cox, Kate Mara, Derek Jacobi, Charles Dance

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Here at “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review,” I’m always searching to find movies from a genre I have yet to tackle. The majority of movies I’ve reviewed since I started this last year are Horror movies (mainly because I watch them more than anything else), but my focus this year is to try to find movies from a variety of genres and eras. Throughout the coming months I plan on diving into numerous movies from the Universal Monster Movie era to Westerns to Dramas, etc. As we approach the end of another decade in the 21st Century, I would like to review movies that have come out within this time frame. With that being said, I found a movie that was released in 2011 that I found on accident and after watching it was entertained. It’s an Action/Drama film set in medieval times that is loosely based on a historical event.  The movie is called “Ironclad.”

“Ironclad” takes place in England in the year 1215. The rebel barons have forced King John to sign and seal the Magna Carta, a document which upholds the rights and freedom of the people. Within months, King John refuses to abide by the terms of the Magna Carta and seeks to reclaim England under his rule with the assistance of Danish mercenaries. The barons, with the help of a small group of Knights Templar head to Rochester Castle, located near the coast which the King can bring in goods and supplies to the country. From their they make their last stand against King John and his army until reinforcements from the French arrive. Will they be able to withhold the army and survive or will King John prevail and punish those who defy his rule?

The movie features an ensemble cast. Paul Giamatti plays the ruthless King John. James Purefoy plays Thomas Marshal, the leader of the Knights Templar. Brian Cox plays Baron William d’Aubigny who leads the rebel group into Rochester. Derek Jacobi and Kate Mara are the royal couple of Rochester castle, Baron Reginald de Cornhill and Lady Isabel and Charles Dance makes a small appearance as Archbishop Langton, who gives the blessing of the group taking a stand against King John and uphold the terms of the Magna Carta.

 

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Let me start by saying this. “Ironclad” is a historically flawed film. Without saying too much that could reveal key plot points, there are a lot of inconsistencies between the movie and the historical time line of events. The army that is depicted in the movie that defends Rochester Castle is significantly smaller than the army that was documented. Other inaccuracies include the Danish army that King John uses in his quest to take back Rochester, the promises that were made to the Danes and the timeline of when the French would be arriving to assist the barons with defeating King John. I don’t know how much research the writers did when it came start the screenplay for this movie. Judging by the timeline and sequence of events, it sounds like not a lot of in depth research was done.

Putting all that aside, the movie is enjoyable to watch. Director Jonathan English manages to blend historical and period notices with blood, gore and mud. The first thing that struck me while watching this movie is the recreation of 13th century England. I was taken back by the beautiful landscape and beaches. The overcast weather with periods of rain and cold adds to the tension of the movie and is heightened by the stone-cold look of the castles. I’m not sure if the castles were real or if they were built sets, but they were as realistic as I’ve seen in a medieval themed movie.

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The acting is a little over the top, especially Giamatti’s performance as King John. He really did his best to portray King John as brutal, vengeful and spite who will stop at nothing to reclaim his “birthright” as the ruler of England. Some of it is laughable, but he puts in a good enough effort to where I’m not going to be too critical of him. Jason Purefoy is the strong, silent Templar leader Thomas Marshal who lives and dies by the rules of the Catholic Church. His oath is put to the test not only throughout the conflict, but by the seductive tactics of Lady Isabel. Speaking of Lady Isabel, Kate Mara does a decent performance. She is not very fond of her husband as she is in a forced marriage with no privileges. She becomes quite smitten with Thomas for his heroics and leadership. Brian Cox was my personal favorite performance as William d’Aubigny. He commanded each scene with passion, purpose and sometimes with a little humor. He feels a sense of responsibility to ensure the people of England are entitled to the freedoms bestowed by the Magna Carta and has a personal animosity towards King John since it was his hand that forced King John to sign the Magna Carta.

What “Ironclad” is known for is the constant battles that is amped up by huge quantities of blood, gore and mud that’s ever graced a screen. You’ll see limbs, body parts, people split in half and even a tongue cutting through the film’s 121 minute run time. There’s so much visceral and bodies piling up throughout the screen it would put “Saving Private Ryan” to shame. Some of the battles are hard to enjoy due to the headache inducing shaky cam techniques. That was the huge problem for me. This is in large part to director Jonathan English’s amateur experience in filmmaking. This would be the third movie he directed and the second major feature only to the 2006 European Horror film “Minotaur.”

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I can continue to nitpick other things about this movie including costuming, lighting, but we’ll leave that for another movie. Overall, I enjoyed “Ironclad.” Is a great movie? No. It never quite delivers on its promise, and though extremely competent it just can’t quite produce that true magic that better films can. That goes back to Jonathan English’s inexperience, but you can only get better at your craft the more films you make. If you can suspend disbelief about the historical timeline of this movie, you’ll enjoy it even more.

Is a great movie? No. It never quite delivers on its promise, and though extremely competent it just can’t quite produce that true magic that better films can. It is, however, a highly competent and interesting historical drama. I have some quibbles with costuming etc; but that kind of goes with the territory.

 

TRIVIA

  • Paul Giamatti filmed his role in seven days.
  • After the first attempt by King John’s army to take the castle, King John (Paul Giamatti) can be seen eating a peach in his tent. When the real King John died in October 1216, his death was attributed to poisoned ale, poisoned plums, or a “surfeit of peaches”.
  • According to director Jonathan English, Daniel O’Meara really did eat a beetle during the starvation portion of the siege, but he’s not sure the actor swallowed it.
  • Richard Attenborough, originally cast as Archbishop Langton, convinced the film’s creative team to utilize Wales’ Dragon Studios as the primary shooting location. However, he was forced to cancel his involvement with production after suffering a debilitating fall down the stairs of his home, complications of which led to his death.
  • Angus Macfadyen was initially cast in the role of Jedediah Coteral, but dropped out when the project was re-financed. He was replaced with Jamie Foreman.
  • Depicted as pagans in the film, the Danes were Christianized by that time. The bulk of King John’s mercenaries were not Danes but mostly Flemish, Provençals and Aquitainians.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Templars Without Tongues

King John

Forced Upon Me

Rebellion Or Revenge

Asking The French For Help

You See How He Talks To Me?

I’m No Soldier

Are You Sorry For What You Have Done?

Not Tolerate Drinking

With The Pope’s Blessing

You Better Hit Harder Than That

My Husband’s Appetite Doesn’t Include Me

England Belongs To Me

Great Deal Of Thinking

Goddamned Devils

Damn Your Templar Vows

Take This Castle

King John’s Speech

Pawn Sacrifice

 

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Pawn Sacrifice

Release Date: September 25, 2015

Genre: Biography, Drama, Sport

Director: Edward Zwick

Writers: Steven Knight (Screenplay), Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson and Steven Knight (Story)

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Live Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

First off I wish to thank everyone for their continued support of the site. I have reached Review #30. For this review of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review” I decided to go with a genre that I’ve not done a review for. I went with a Biopic film. I enjoy Biopic films as they give you a cinematic view of a person or a historical event. I went with an individual biopic. This biopic is based on a person that is arguably the best at what he did. What he did was play Chess. He not only became the first (and only) American to win the World Championship, but he unlocked centuries of secrets that were contained in the game. I’m referring to Bobby Fischer.

I’ve been an amateur Chess player for over a year and I’ve been fascinated with Bobby Fischer as an individual. I’ve read many books on him as well as the award-winning HBO documentary “Bobby Fischer Against The World.” He is a man shrouded in mystery and lived in his own world which consists of 64 squares and 16 pieces. At age fifteen he became the youngest United States Chess Champion. By the time he was twenty-nine, he won the 1972 World Championship against Soviet Champion Boris Spassky. The match is hailed as the only “physical” battle of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The match soared Chess into mainstream popularity. Fischer became a rock star. Right as he won the title, he went into seclusion never playing another professional game until twenty years later. In 2015, a biopic about Fischer and the ’72 Championship was released in limited theaters called “Pawn Sacrifice!”

“Pawn Sacrifice” chronicles Fischer’s interest in Chess as a young boy to winning his first United States Chess Championship to his preparation for the World Championship against Spassky. His frosty relationship with his mother, his early signs of paranoia and his all-out desire to be the best in the world weave into the plot.  Directed by Edward Zwick whose credits include numerous critically acclaimed films including “Glory,” “Legends of the Fall,” “Courage Under Fire,” and “The Last Samurai” the cast includes Tobey Magurie as Bobby Fischer, Liev Schreiber as Boris Spassky, Peter Sarsgaard as Father Bill Lombardy, Fischer’s assistant and backup player and Michael Stuhlbarg as Paul Marshall who becomes Fischer’s lawyer.

Let me go ahead and get the negatives out of this movie first before going into the reasons why I enjoy this film. It’s a flawed historical account of Fischer’s rise to Chess immortality. There are a lot of inaccuracies during the timeline of events. I won’t document all the inaccuracies I found out due to not giving out spoilers (although I warn about potential spoilers). I understand that biopic films can’t reveal a full narrative unless you plan on having a four plus hour movie. I think the film trims the fat in the wrong places.

Instead what “Pawn Sacrifice” does is gives you a psychological story. Throughout the film you watch Fischer slowly deteriorate mentally from his constant studying of the game, to his heightened senses which breaks his concentration to his ever growing distrust for those around him to tearing up telephones and breaking any equipment he thinks the Russians can use to spy on him. Yes, the film focuses on Fischer, but it also focuses on his opponent Spassky. Both are considered the best Chess players by their respective homelands. Both are used as pawns to their countries to show off the superiority of each ideological concept. Each play their own psychological games. For Fischer its constant demands on the rules, setting and prize money. For Spassky it’s doing things like standing up and slowly pacing causing noises to interrupt Fischer’s train of thought.  There are moments in the film where Spassky is suspicious of his assistant’s motives and reasonings. All Spassky wants to do is play Fischer in a battle of wits and skill.

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As far as the story, the film starts out with Bobby as a young boy garnering an interest in Chess to his quick rise to being the youngest Chess Grandmaster in history to his legendary match with Boris Spassky for the World Championship. The third act of the movie is the dramatization of the Championship match. The original match consisted of twenty four games with Fischer needing to get to twelve and half points to win the title. What director Edward Zwick does is not bore you with highlights from all twenty four games, but rather shows you the important matches in the game along with some of the issues that arise during the match.

The cast of the movie is small which is fine since it centralizes on the two figures. Tobey Maguire is not the ideal actor to play Fischer, but I think he did a good job with the performance. Maguire is short is height compared to the real Bobby Fischer who was tall and lanky. I give the makeup department an ‘A+’ for getting Fischer’s hair and facial features. Maguire gets Fischer’s unique walk down to a science. The voice was hard to nail down since Fischer spoke with a soft Brooklyn accent, but it came out in many scenes where Fischer would be fired up about the Russian’s tactics in Chess and complaints about competitive disadvantage and some tense moments between him, Bill Lombardi and Paul Marshall.  Maguire commanded the screen throughout the film with his tactics which were humorous at times including waiting to the last second to make his first move against a Russian opponent and stopping the clock with one second to spare.

While Tobey Maguire may have the full look of Bobby Fischer, the opposite could be said of Liev Schreiber as Boris Spassky. Schreiber was the perfect choice for Spassky. If you put a photo of Schreiber and Spassky together you wouldn’t be able to notice the difference. Schreiber speaks Russian throughout the entire movie with the exception of a few tiny moments where he speaks English. Schreiber portrays Spassky like a quiet rock star making entrances with his sunglasses on surrounded by his entourage. Even though he comes from the Soviet Union, we see moments in the film where Spassky is enjoying American culture from listening to music, to playing pinball to taking a swim in the ocean. This does not please his manager who is trying to keep a tight leash on him throughout the movie.

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Finally the two remaining cast members, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg play their parts respectively. Sarsgaard plays Bill Lombardi, Fischer’s coach and second and Stuhlbarg plays Paul Marshall, Fischer’s pro bono lawyer who has his work cut out trying to satisfy all of Bobby’s demands. Lombardi is essentially the middle man between Fischer and Marshall. He does his best to keep both on even footing. Sarsgaard plays Lombardi as calm, wise and observational as he can tell right away that Fischer is falling into the same madness that has taken so many Chess prodigies in the past. Stuhlbarg portrays Marshall as somewhat of a weasel as he goes behind Bobby’s back to stay in touch with his sister, Joan who expresses the same concerns that Lombardi has and being a go to contact for people high up in the United States government who have taken a strong interest in Fischer and would like to exploit him to be a shining symbol of American freedom and idealism.

As far as the technical aspects of the film, the visual locations are beautiful and breathtaking as you see the sunny beaches of California to the cold and vast landscape of Iceland with New York being sandwiched in between the two. The film is very bright due to the digital film that was used although it makes up by setting the right lighting and mood during some of Fischer’s darkest moments including his vast breakdown in between games of the World Chess Championship. The music heightens the scenes throughout the movie and add a touch of classic rock and roll music during numerous scenes of Fischer’s dominance of the game when he destroys his opponents left and right.

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“Pawn Sacrifice” is the first film I can think of that focuses on a person from the Chess world. I’ve heard of the movie “Searching For Bobby Fischer,” but that film was never about Fischer. It was a catchy title. If you’re not familiar with Bobby Fischer and would like to learn more about him I would recommend watching this movie. In addition I would watch the documentary I mentioned earlier “Bobby Fischer Against The World” and read numerous books about him. Fischer is an interesting character study. Who knows? Maybe it will spark your interest in Chess if you haven’t been interested in it already.

 

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • A “Pawn Sacrifice” is a move in chess in which a player sacrifices his pawn for a soft advantage such as more space for his pieces or positioning them in better squares in order to develop an attack subsequently. It aims to create unbalanced positions so if the player who is committed to the pawn sacrifice did not capitalize on his temporary advantage, he would lose the game at the end due to his inferiority in material.
  • The narrator of the conspiracy theory audio that Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) is listening to is Liev Schreiber, who plays Boris Spassky.
  • In preparing to write the movie’s script, screenwriter Steven Knight read many of the books that have been written about Bobby Fischer and the “Match of the Century”, as well as speaking with people who knew him. “The most useful material was archival footage of him being interviewed,” said screenwriter Knight. “Bobby spoke and moved oddly, and to see that was helpful. If you noticed him walking down the street, you’d think, ‘there is a curious person’. He might have ended up just another homeless person, but he was just so good at chess that he was saved by it. And, of course, cursed by it as well.”
  • The screenplay for this film was featured in the 2009 Blacklist, a list of the most liked unmade scripts of the year.
  • Of the movie’s title, the film’s director Edward Zwick said: “You have Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon calling Bobby Fischer; you have [Leonid] Brezhnev [Leonid Brezhnev] and the KGB agents following Boris Spassky. Both of these men were pawns of their nations”.
  • Bobby Fischer passed away at the age of 64, which is coincidentally the same number of fields on a chessboard.
  • David Fincher was linked to the project for several years.

 

AUDIO CLIPS