Pawn Sacrifice: Movie Review

Sep 27, 2015, 7:59 PM |

My husband and I went out this afternoon to a Sunday matinee showing of "Pawn Sacrifice."  The theater had about 15 to 20 people, mostly older.

As a chess player who became active during the Fischer era (for me, around 1970), I found the film both compelling and flawed.  If you know Fischer's (and Spassky's) career track, you will immediately recognize the artistic and plot liberties taken to further the story.

Errors made in the film include making Father Bill Lombardy Fischer's confidante and second as early as 1965.  The Lombardy role in the film is one of a moral compass for Fischer as he is torn by his mental instability, fear of Russian spying, his cultist religious beliefs, and political entities using him for propagandistic purposes.

Carmine Nigro is introduced early in the film as Fischer's first chess mentor (which is true), but hangs around too long.

At one point Lombardy claims Paul Morphy committed suicide at the age of 26 (he actually died in his bathtub at age 47).

The film portrays Fischer as a clothes horse as early as age 15, when that came later in his teens.

The first "showdown" with Spassky at the (1966) Piatigorsky Cup is sheer fantasy.

Fischer is portrayed accusing the Russians of cheating at the Varna Olympiad, rather than at the Curacao Candidate's tournament, and publically quitting chess because "the Russians stole my chance to become the youngest world champion."

Spassky is portrayed as the world champion from the early 1960s to the Iceland match.  Poor Petrosian get the short shrift.

The film attempts to make Spassky look almost a nutty as Fischer, at one point, crawling under his chair during the game to look for planted "bugs."

With all that said, the film does get a lot of things right.  Things like the Kissinger phone call and dialogue; Fischer's hypersensitivity to noise and demands to play in a quiet room for Game 3 and to remove rows of seats.

Spassky is portrayed as a bit of a Soviet "rockstar," and free-thinker who ditched his KGB tails during the Santa Monica tournament to play pinball.

A fictional Soviet who lost to Fischer in the first round of a tournament (named "Ivanovich") is sent home to Russia due to having "the flu."

In some ways the film is unfair to both Fischer and Spassky.  The epilogue shows them both in Yugoslavia in 1992, but does not talk Spassky's treatment post-1972.  And it also has news clip of the "crazy man" Fischer arriving in Iceland in 2005.

Was the movie emjoyable for the average chess fan - I'd say yes.  The non-chess player will like it for the political intrigue.  It is not a great film, and it could have been with out all the invented drama.  Fischer's life was dramatic enough.

Go see it at the bargain matinee like we did.  Or catch it on NetFlix.