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

 

 

 

 

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Hiatus

Hello everyone!

I apologize for not posting reviews lately.  I’ve been busy with a lot of things: work, vacation, other personal matters.

I wanted to give you a heads up that I’m going to take a small hiatus from posting reviews. I have some personal events coming up in September that need my attention.

However, I will be returning in October to do a month long review special review in lieu of the Halloween season. I’m going to be reviewing my “Most Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies”.  I will be dedicating the spare time I have in September to watch and review five horror movies that fit this category. I will post one a week up until Halloween. I’ll be spending the time next month watching, researching, analyzing and of course picking out some hilarious clips.

I want to say Thank you to all you viewers out there. I appreciate all of you who have supported this blog. I hope you have enjoyed reading these blogs as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.

I’ll see you soon.

Six Against The Rock

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Six Against The Rock

Release Date: May 18, 1987 (TV Movie)

Genre: Drama, Thriller, Action

Director: Paul Wendkos

Writers: John Gay (Teleplay), Clark Howard (Book)

Starring: David Carradine, Richard Dysart, Dennis Farina, Charles Haid, David Morse, Jan Michael Vincent, Howard Hesseman

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

This past Christmas I received a book written by acting great David Carradine. His memoir titled “Endless Highway” talks about his life, his career and his spiritual journey. Many people know Carradine as the main character from the hit 70s show “Kung Fu”. Today’s younger generation would remember him as the titular title character from Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” movies. After reading his book, I ventured into his film catalogue to watch some movies he was in. One of the films I came across in his resume was a made for TV movie that sparked my interest. The movie was titled “Six Against the Rock”.

Not to be confused with the film “Escape From Alcatraz”starring Clint Eastwood which was about the only successful escape from the prison, this film portrays the 1946 failed escape attempt by six inmates which leads to a hostage standoff that lasted three days. Carradine plays Bernie Coy, who is currently serving a twenty-five year sentence for robbery and the architect of the escape. The other accomplices in the plan include Joseph ‘Dutch’ Cretzer (played by Howard Hesseman), Marvin Hubbard (played by David Morse), Miran ‘Buddy’ Thompson (played by Jan Michael Vincent), Sam Shockley (played by Charles Haid) and Dan Durando (played by Paul Sanchez). The plan was to escape through ‘C Block’, which was the largest unit on the rock by capturing the guards posted there and using the yard key to make their escape where they would head to the shipyard and get on a boat that would take them to San Francisco. The plan fails when the inmates cannot find the yard key among all the keys in their possession. When they try to use other keys as an alternative, the lock jams leaving them stuck in the block with the guards. Coy decides to use the guards as hostages and use them as leverage for a negotiation with the prison’s Warden. Warden James Johnston (played by Richard Dysart) refuses to negotiate and instead tries to find a way to stop the siege and rescue the guards. He calls upon the local military for help. Now surrounded by military rifles and other hardware, the inmates only option is to fight it out. Would they survive the fight?

Direct by Paul Wendkos, who was known in the business as a “prolific specialist in made for television movies, this is indeed a tightly made film that accurately depicts the events that unfolded during those three days at Alcatraz in 1946. The majority of the movie takes place in one location so it gives the movie a claustrophobic feel. When the plan fails, the inmates are left to improvise with little to no help from the other inmates. As the hours and days go by in the siege, the inmates get tired and desperate. They begin to turn on one another.

There are some solid performances in this film. First I’ll discuss the inmates. David Carradine and David Morse work great together as Coy and Hubbard. Coy is very logical with his planning and he is quick to improvise when the original plan fails. He keeps his leadership intact with force and reasoning. Morse adds ferocity and patience to the group. Despite the plan slowly unraveling, he does his best to encourage and motivate the team to not lose hope and keep their minds focus on the objective. Hesseman and Haid portrayed the vicious and unstable characters in the movie, Cretzer and Shockley. They end up being more of a liability to the team rather than an asset. They become paranoid and desperate to the point where they start to take out their frustration on the guards being held hostage against Coy’s orders. They want to show they mean business. Jan Michael Vincent who plays Buddy Thompson in the film is quiet and composed, yet he takes his orders from Cretzer. The moralist of the group is Dan Durando, portrayed by Paul Sanchez.  He was convicted of murder at age sixteen and is currently serving a ninety-nine year sentence. He is hesitant about escaping from prison in the beginning of the film and ultimately gets dragged into the situation once Coy releases him from his cell. As the events are unfolding, Durando keeps his distance from the others and prevents Cretzer and Shockley from killing the guards.

Richard Dysart plays Warden Johnston who is grasping with the situation that is unfolding in his prison. His main focus throughout the film is the safety of the guards that are held hostage. The design of the prison works against him and has to rely on the military to come up with a way of diffusing the situation.

There’s not much action in the movie other than the inmates rounding up the guards and defending themselves during the onslaught of the military trying to take back the block There’s an ample amount of violence from the beating of the guards to Carradine shooting the guards in the leg at the Watch Tower. There’s enough going on to keep you on your feet.

“Six Against The Rock” is an intriguing story that tells a historic event that has been overlooked due to the only successful escape from Alcatraz that took place in 1960. It’s a movie where its characters are not just people, but of The Rock itself being a character. The movie reminds us that a plan that looks good on paper, but it may not work in real life. This movie may have been made for the small screen, but it leaves you with the feeling that you just watched a big masterpiece.

TRIVIA (N/A)

 

AUDIO CLIPS