Like many chess enthusiasts around the world in 1972, I followed the “Match of the Century” between the mercurial, yet troubled American chess Grandmaster Bobby Fischer, and the Soviet World Champion, Boris Spassky with a passion. After losing the first 2 games, Fischer would storm back to win the match and the world title; then disappeared from the world of chess for 20 years. The machinations behind this match, the U.S. and U.S.S.R’s “Cold War”, Fischer’s increasing paranoia and more are recounted in the new film “Pawn Sacrifice”, directed by Edward Zwick, and starring Tobey Maquire as Fischer and Liev Schreieber as Boris Spassky.
The film begins with young Fischer’s well chronicled childhood beginnings in NYC; his entrance into the world of chess; his mother’s Communist leanings and his unprecedented, meteoric rise in first the U.S. and later in the international chess world. Maquire does a decent job of capturing Fischer’s New York accent, bravado and obsession with the game. The casting of Peter Sarsgard as Father William Lombardy was a bit different than I remembered him, although he was quite good in the role. Having met Spassky at a few chess events over the years, Schreiber’s portrayal was great; he captured the Spassky players around the world have come to love, respect and admire.
Most of Fischer’s stories have been told, re-told and written about quite a bit; his decent in to madness; his anti-semitic rants; his blatant disregard for U.S. sanctions in his 1992 re-match with Spassky; his arrest and exile in Iceland and ultimately his death. This film puts faces to those stories and historical events for a new generation that didn’t experience the tension, and the agony of those thrilling days of yesteryear.