American chess phenomenon Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) squares off against his Russian rival Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) in the 1972 "Match of the Century" in Reykjavik, in this gripping docudrama from director Edward Zwick (Glory) and screenwriter Steven Knight (Eastern Promises).
It was dubbed "The Match of the Century," and it drew more worldwide interest than any chess match before or since. The 1972 World Chess Championship between American challenger Bobby Fischer and the USSR's defending champion Boris Spassky would for several weeks turn a chessboard in Reykjavik into a battlefield of Cold War one-upmanship. Pawn Sacrifice doesn't just give us a front row seat at this high-stakes event. It ushers us behind the scenes and lets us peer into the psyches of its participants.
The Soviet Chess School had long held a monopoly on the game, and Spassky (Liev Schreiber) was considered invincible — but if anyone was a contender, it was the phenomenon Fischer (Tobey Maguire). He became the world's youngest chess grandmaster at fifteen; at twenty he won the US Championship, achieving the only perfect score in its history. He lived only for chess, but his mastery would become overshadowed by his eccentricities and controversial outbursts.
Pawn Sacrifice surveys Fischer's deteriorating mental state over the course of the summer of '72, as his paranoia surges and his mania for maintaining focus becomes so acute that he demands all cameras be removed from the playing space because their noise is too distracting.
The thoughtful script by Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Dirty Pretty Things) prompts us to consider the proximity of genius to madness, while director Ed Zwick (Legends of the Fall) keeps the pace brisk, and the cast loads every moment with tension. Schreiber's Spassky bears the burden of national honour like a physical weight, there are superb supporting performances from Peter Sarsgaard and Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man), and Maguire is simply a revelation. Also one of the project's initiators and producers, he has never been more magnetic than in Pawn Sacrifice, getting under the skin of this man whom no one understood, but everyone remains fascinated by.