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From a young age Magnus Carlsen had aspirations of becoming a champion chess player. While many players seek out an intensely rigid environment to hone their skills, Magnus’ brilliance shines brightest when surrounded by his loving and supportive family. Through an extensive amount of archival footage and home movies, director Benjamin Ree reveals this young man’s unusual and rapid trajectory to the pinnacle of the chess world. This film allows the audience to not only peek inside this isolated community but also witness the maturation of a modern genius.

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Magnus movie full length review - Difficult subject perhaps, but they made the most of it

"Magnus" is a Norwegian English-language documentary movie written and directed by relatively young Norwegian filmmaker Benjamin Ree.

The title character here is Magnus Carlsen, a man in his mid-20s who is, despite his tender age, the currently reigning chess World Champion, but this actually could not be true for much longer as, right now, he is in a tough battle to keep his crown with an equally young contender from Russia. This is certainly a bit unusual looking at the ages of previous world champions in chess. Let me start this review by saying something about myself. I am somebody who knows the basic rules of chess, but has not played it in a very long time. And for people like me, this is probably also the target group who will enjoy it the most. People with no interest in chess will not get interested through this film. And huge experts will find it a bit boring perhaps as they know all the stuff in there anyway. I personally liked the second half especially, even if this will probably not appeal to everybody as it was very much a sports documentary at that point already, but I found it very interesting to see him during his games, especially against Anand. The only criticism I have is that maybe Anand was depicted as too much of a villain and a cold processing machine, even if this may indeed be his approach. A more personal note, also on the enemy, may have been nicer. And this personal note was also missing completely when they talked about the qualification tournament I guess as we just saw briefly one game after the other, one opponent after the other. Then again the relatively short film (75 minutes) is mostly on Carlsen and nobody else, so I can somewhat understand the approach.

Another aspect I found a bit stereotypical and generic for this genre was the way they tried to show him as an outsider when he was a boy and at the very end closed the film with depicting him as somebody who likes social contact now, so maybe this was when the movie took itself too seriously as the emotional component they were occasionally going for did not have any effect on me whatsoever. This film is at its best when it just shows Carlsen's competitive side and we see him as a professional "athlete" during his road to the World Championship. But admittedly the weaker aspects are also far from bad enough to make this an underwhelming film overall. I just mention these to explain why this documentary is not one of my favorite films from 2016. It definitely makes for a good watch though, just not for a great one, which was admittedly not too easy though with the subject. I give it a thumbs-up and I also want to emphasize again that I liked Ree's approach of keeping this film very short and essential instead of filling it with some more rather pointless sequences. The way it turned out here it's certainly worth seeing for everybody who cares a bit about chess. So what are you waiting for. Go check it out!