Pawn Sacrifice is a 2014 American biographical drama film. It is based on the true story of Bobby Fischer's challenge against top Soviet chess grandmasters during the Cold War and culminating in the World Chess Championship 1972 match versus Boris Spassky in Reykjavík, Iceland. It was directed by Edward Zwick and written by Steven Knight. The film stars Tobey Maguire as Bobby Fischer, Liev Schreiber as Boris Spassky, Lily Rabe as Joan Fischer, and Peter Sarsgaard as William Lombardy. It was released in the United States on September 16, 2015.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Edward Zwick|
|Screenplay by||Steven Knight|
|Music by||James Newton Howard|
|Edited by||Steven Rosenblum|
|Distributed by||Bleecker Street|
|Box office||$5.6 million|
The film flashes back to Brooklyn in 1951 when Fischer is only 6 years old. Frightened to see a strange vehicle parked outside, Bobby tells his mother. Mrs. Fischer, a Soviet Jewish immigrant, tells Bobby that the FBI has her under surveillance because she supports Marxist revolution in the U.S. She coaches Bobby on what to say to the FBI if he is ever approached.
Even then, Bobby is immersing himself in chess and has become an expert player. His mother, worried that chess is becoming an obsession, takes him to an adult chess club. He impresses the resident chess master and is accepted as a student. His coaching leads him into the world of professional chess championships, and he soon becomes the youngest grandmaster ever.
But Bobby's hatred of distractions leads him to frequent tantrums. He enters a team tournament in Varna, Bulgaria where he realizes that Soviet grandmasters are deliberately drawing games with the collusion of the World Chess Federation. Erupting, Bobby rants that this makes it impossible for a non-Soviet player to win the championship. He quits the tournament and gives up chess.
When he returns to the U.S., a lawyer says that he will help him modify the tournament rules, offering his services free of cost to give Fischer a fair chance to win future tournaments. Fischer re-enters professional chess. He selects Father William Lombardy, a former World Junior Chess Champion and Roman Catholic priest, as his second. As Lombardy works to calm Bobby's impossible demands, he comments that even though Bobby isn't a rock star, he acts just like one.
As his demands are accepted, Bobby overcomes most of the grandmasters across the world and grows closer to the world championship, becoming a hero to the American public. It is the height of the Cold War, and Soviet domination of the World Chess Championship is being exploited for propaganda as proof that the Communist system is superior to American democracy. U.S. President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger closely monitor and encourage Bobby's progress.
Privately, Lombardy tells Bobby's lawyer that excessive focus on chess strategy has destroyed the sanity of the game's greatest players. As an example, he cites the mental breakdown and suicide of 19th century American grandmaster Paul Morphy. He warns that Bobby could crack. The lawyer replies, "Bobby won't crack. He'll explode."
During a tournament in Santa Monica, California, Bobby loses to Soviet Grandmaster Boris Spassky, the world champion. The next morning, an enraged Bobby approaches Spassky on a beach and repeatedly screams, "I'm coming for you!"
As he continues to pursue the world championship, the pressure drives Bobby into paranoia and delusional psychosis. Meeting with Bobby's lawyer, Bobby's sister Joan quotes from Bobby's letters about how the Communists are colluding with International Jewry in order to destroy him. Joan explains that Bobby believes this despite being Jewish himself. She pleads with Bobby's lawyer to arrange for her brother to receive psychiatric help. The lawyer is dismissive, but as Bobby's breakdown escalates, the lawyer suggests to Lombardy that Bobby needs therapy and medication. Lombardy replies, "That would be like pouring concrete down a holy well."
Reporters and fans from around the world all assemble at Reykjavík, Iceland to witness the historic World Chess Championship 1972 match between Bobby and Spassky. Bobby is easily distracted by small noises like the movements of the audience, rolling cameras, or the pawns on the chess board, which leads him to make extreme demands for silence and fewer distractions. Even though this could cause Bobby to forfeit the match, Spassky is insulted by the possibility of maintaining his title by forfeit. He orders the Soviet entourage to accede to all of Bobby's demands.
Bobby loses the first game, and doesn't show up for the second, therefore losing by forfeit. Finally, he wins the third game using unconventional tactics. Americans are thrilled with Bobby's victory. Game four is a draw, but Bobby wins game five after Spassky himself begins showing signs of paranoia. With the match now more interesting, experts speculate that the next game will determine the outcome of the tournament. In game six Bobby uses an opening he has never played before, surprising the audience and compelling Spassky to resign. Amazed, an admiring Spassky rises and leads a standing ovation of Bobby's victory.
A postscript reveals that Bobby Fischer went on to win the match and that his sixth game against Spassky is still considered the greatest chess game ever played. Unfortunately, he never received psychiatric help and his delusions grew worse with every passing year. He went on to forfeit his title and died in 2008 as a fugitive from U.S. prosecution.
- Tobey Maguire as Bobby Fischer
- Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick as teenage Bobby Fischer
- Aiden Lovekamp as young Bobby Fischer
- Liev Schreiber as Boris Spassky
- Lily Rabe as Joan Fischer
- Sophie Nélisse as young Joan
- Peter Sarsgaard as William Lombardy
- Michael Stuhlbarg as Paul Marshall
- Robin Weigert as Regina Fischer
- Conrad Pla as Carmine Nigro
- Évelyne Brochu as Donna
- Katie Nolan as Maria
- Edward Zinoviev as Efim Geller
- Brett Watson as Chief Arbiter Lothar Schmid
Director Edward Zwick explained the meaning of the film's title: "You have Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon calling Bobby Fischer; you have Brezhnev and the KGB agents following Boris Spassky. Both of these men were pawns of their nations".
Principal photography began in early October 2013 in Reykjavík, Iceland. In mid-October, the remaining 41 days of shooting began in Montreal, Canada, wrapping in Los Angeles on December 11, 2013.
The film had its world premiere at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival on September 11, 2014. On September 10, 2014, Bleecker Street acquired the U.S. distribution rights to the film, the company's first acquisition. The film was originally set to be released in the United States on September 18, 2015; however, it was pushed up to September 16, with wide releases in both America and Canada on September 25, 2015.
Pawn Sacrifice has grossed $2.4 million in North America and $3.1 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $5.6 million, and sales of its DVD/Blu-ray releases have cashed $1.1 milion, against a budget of $19 million.
The film grossed $1 million in the opening weekend of its wide release, finishing 12th at the box office.
Pawn Sacrifice received generally positive reviews. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 71%, based on 108 reviews, with an average rating of 6.4/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Anchored by a sensitive performance from Tobey Maguire, Pawn Sacrifice adds another solidly gripping drama to the list of films inspired by chess wiz Bobby Fischer". On Metacritic, the film has a score of 65 out of 100, based on 29 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Spassky himself has called the film "weak" and that it has "no intrigue"; he noted that the film misrepresents how and why he agreed to continue the match after Fischer failed to show up for the second game.
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