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Pawn Sacrifice 

Wednesday, Sep 16 2015
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To like this movie, you'll need to be someone who enjoys a good chess montage, or Tobey Maguire, or both. (Both would be ideal.) The story of prodigious, cantankerous chess champ Bobby Fischer feels like a bit of a for-hire job for director Edward Zwick — although, come to think of it, all his movies do. But Maguire in the role is compelling. We infer thatPawn Sacrificemust have meant a lot to him — not because it hums with passion, necessarily, but because it's hard to imagine how it could have gotten made otherwise. The film maneuvers methodically toward the climax of the 1972 world championship in Reykjavik, where Fischer faced off with Soviet chess titan Boris Spassky, played by Liev Schreiber in grouchy-bear mode. In spite of PR management efforts by Fischer's ad-hoc entourage — a patriotic lawyer (Michael Stuhlbarg) and a worldly chess-smart priest (Peter Sarsgaard) — the combination of media scrutiny and Cold War politics cracked open the bulwark of his mind, and released a flood of paranoia. "People think there are all these options," Fischer says. "But there's usually one right move." Maguire has great expressive eyes, and sometimes he overworks them here, but to imbue a line like that with weary pathos isn't easy. Even the most stoic opponent might be inspired to stand and applaud.

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Jonathan Kiefer

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SF Weekly movie critic Jonathan Kiefer is on Twitter: @kieferama and of course @sfweeklyfilm.

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