Pawn Sacrifice is a safe, shallow biopic about chess legend Bobby Fischer.
Most of the time, we follow a rather standard biopic recipe, but with Fischer's unpredictability thrown in. That changes things up to an extent, although not enough to shake the feeling that what we're watching is formulaic and a touch too shallow. Apart from being superb at chess and being very paranoid, I didn't feel like I got to know Fischer as a person particularly well. Scenes in which character would typically be revealed are filled with chess jargon instead. It tells us how singularly focused Fischer was on the game, but nothing more.
Our supporting cast is even worse off. Liev Schreiber gets perhaps two scenes in which he isn't staring at a chess board, and while he's good at that, he gets nothing in terms of being a character. Lily Rabe appears as Fischer's sister, Joan, but fails to leave much of an impression. Peter Sarsgaard and Michael Stuhlbarg are both in the film a great deal, but beyond base character types, I couldn't tell you anything about them. There's almost no depth to the entire project. It's not altogether bad, but it's disappointing.
At least Tobey Maguire returns to the spotlight as Bobby Fischer, turning in an unhinged performance that only intermittently reminds one of the "emo Spider-Man" scenes from Spider-Man 3. Maguire struggles to shake his Peter Parker persona for much of the film, something he did easily in 2009's Brothers, and it's a shame that it follows him into the role of Bobby Fischer. Schreiber makes for a menacing opponent, but he's the only other performance of note. Most everyone else just fades into the background.
Pawn Sacrifice is a safe, shallow biopic about chess legend Bobby Fischer. It has exciting chess scenes - although it doesn't have enough of them - but, on the whole, it winds up being a disappointing movie. It saddles us with an annoying protagonist who, regardless of the reasons behind his attitude, is tough to watch, and its characters are largely devoid of depth. The film places great importance on a match from which we only get to see a few games, and it feels cliché from moment one until the point at which the text before the credits informs us of how Fischer spent the rest of his life. It's not altogether bad, but it's nowhere near as good as could have been hoped.
Bottom Line: Pawn Sacrifice is a disappointing shallow biopic about a complex man, but its few chess scenes are quite exciting.
Recommendation: Unless you're a big chess fan, or are quite interested specifically in Bobby Fischer, Pawn Sacrifice isn't worth your time.
If you want more of Matthew "Marter" Parkinson, you can follow him on the Twitter @Martertweet and check out his weekly movie podcast.