Monday 28 September 2015

Pawn Sacrifice ... No checkmate, just a draw

DIRECTOR Edward Zwick's Pawn Sacrifice is about the troubled and colourful life of former US world chess champion Bobby Fischer. Fischer, who died at 65 in 2008, was a chess genius, but led an eccentric lifestyle.
   For example, he wore a brown shopping paperbag over his head when confronted with a gaggle of photographers in an airport. He could not stand the slightest noise during a match, even asking for a TV camera to be moved further away. He believed the authorities were bugging his room, so he trashed his room to look for bugs, but, obviously, couldn't find any.

  His biggest rants were against the US and Jews, even though his mother Regina was born to Jewish parents from Poland and Russia.
  These and his other idiosyncrasies are brought to life in this 2014 production, but which arrives in theatres this month.
  Fischer's claim to fame was that he defeated Russian Boris Spassky at the World Chess Championship in Iceland in 1972. The match triggered an outpouring of interest in him and chess as the game was seen as a Cold War battle between the US and Russia.
  These incidents are portrayed in loving detail in this biopic film, but there's a lack of conflict  between Fischer (Tobey Maguire) and Spassky (Liev Schreiber).
Schreiber is the real 'king'
in 'Pawn Sacrifice'.
   The former is shown as a rising star fighting against the established Russians for world domination, especially against his idol Spassky, whom he idolised and whose matches he scrutinised.
   Spassky, on the other hand, is shown as a prima donna and is twice shown half-naked. One of them is when he swims in the ocean while waited on by two bodyguards. Looking at him in admiration and frustration is a fully-clothed Fischer, who had fallen asleep on the beach.
   Zwick tries to play up the rivalry between the two but there's no urgency to the proceedings. After all, viewers already know the end game.
  The film attributes Fischer's delusions and paranoia to his childhood, when he was asked to keep a lookout for suspicious characters by his single mother. The FBI did investigate her and her friends for their alleged communist sympathies.
  Fischer's mental problems could also have stemmed from his uncertainty about his missing father. After hearing his mum having sex with her boyfriend in the room next door for the umpteenth time, he bursts into the living room and demands she tells him about his father.
  Perhaps the trauma of this sexual incident, and his mum instilling the fear of the authorities in him, led to him being a disturbed genius.
  Another kid who heard his mum having sex is the eponymous character in Forrest Gump.
  Meanwhile, the depiction of the chess matches is as galvanising as watching a gunfight. Chess pieces move across the board in extreme close-ups accompanied by rousing music.
   Zwick does this to create interest in an otherwise simple film about mental health. I give this film a "draw".

2 stars out of 5



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