Pawn Sacrifice movie full length review - The Madman Versus the Marxist: The Incomprehensibility of Genius Through Outstanding Performances by Maguire and Schreiber
There are a small number of bona fide geniuses who walked the Earth but also skated along the cutting-edge of madness.
The late 18th-century composer Wolfgang Mozart was such a figure, often playing and behaving like a pre-adolescent as an adult. Another was the 16th-century astronomer Tycho Brahe who proved the cosmos changed and shifted, contrary to the Aristotelian model. Brahe often engaged in uncouth behavior at the dinner table, including, among other things, allowing his "pet" dwarf to eat scraps under the table. And Robert "Bobby" Fischer, possibly the greatest chess mind who ever lived, was another. We'll get to the nature of his "madness" and how it compromised his career later.
In possibly his best role since "Seabiscuit", Toby Maguire in an Academy-Award caliber performance walks in the shoes of Bobby Fischer. Fischer became the youngest ever United States Chess Champion, winning the honors at 14 years old. He would continue his streak into the 1960's at the height of the Cold War. After exhausting all the accolades at home, Fischer has greater Everests to conquer. He then meets entertainment/celebrity lawyer Paul Marshall (Michael Stuhlbarg) who offers to run Fisher's competition touring. His second is Father Bill Lombardy (Peter Sarsgaard) who will tour with Fischer's entourage, providing emotional support from someone who knows well the game. The two will help him with logistical challenges, such as tournaments, transportation, interviews with the press, and all the while trying desperately to keep him sane.
Having exhausted beating all the American and some European masters, Fischer covets beating the Russian-Soviets by challenging their champion and his nemesis: Boris Spassky (played with subtle coolness and swagger by Liev Schreiber in an equally compelling performance) regarded as the best chess player in the world at that time. While Fischer desires to prove he's the best chess player in the world, Spassky has greater "fish" to fry (pun intended). The point is a Russian victory over the Americans and the rest of the world would somehow prove superior Russian intelligence, and they'll use subtle tactics, such as playing to achieve more draws rather than necessarily wins.
In his first international tournament against the Russians, Fischer becomes aware of the tactics. He claims the Russians are purposefully pursuing draws, essentially playing not to lose but not necessarily to win, although the phrase is never used. Spassky wins the tournament, but Fischer feels he and the rest of the chess community have been duped. Fischer was runner-up in the tournament, but refuses to claim second prize, which becomes only the tip of the iceberg in terms of strange and unpredictable behavior.
For Paul Marshall and Father Lombardy, Fischer becomes insufferable. He makes unrealistic demands not only of his entourage but of the tournaments and the chess world at large. He wants more money and more amenities, such as fancy hotels and limos. He disappears from tournaments, sometimes nearly missing crucial matches. He fills his head with conspiracy-theory propaganda he hears in taped lectures and becomes convinced that both Russians and Jews are not only spying on him but planning his death by blowing up his airplane. He goes to hotels and checks to see if there are bugging devices in the phones.
The chess world then agrees to produce a World Chess Championship match between Spassky and Fischer in Iceland in 1972, labeled a Cold War confrontation between East and West. It's World War III on a chess board between perhaps the two greatest chess minds in the world. The winner will be given the title World Chess Champion. When Fischer needs to board a plane flight, he runs from the terminal, claiming he had requested no photographers which were at the airport treating him like a rock star. Will Fischer travel to Iceland and meet his nemesis for a true match-up to determine who is the greatest chess player in the world, or will Fischer's eccentricities and paranoia destroy his chances? Will Spassky win by default, a result even the Russian doesn't desire?
A wonderful film, the best on chess since "Searching for Bobby Fischer" (1993). Fischer may have had the greatest chess mind in the history of the game, but his strange psychosis ultimately destroyed his career. Believing that governmental forces were out there to get him, Fischer became a recluse, behavior not unlike Howard Hughes. The tragedy of Fischer, similar to that of Mozart was, that for all his genius in chess, the same mind couldn't find a way to deal with his own demons. Governments didn't bug his phones or plan for his assassination. He played Spassky again 1992 in Belgrade, which was regarded by the US government as a violation of sanctions against commercial activities in Yugoslavia. This time he did become a fugitive of the US government, and was granted asylum in Ireland. However, not even Ireland could give him sanctuary from his own inner demons.