Tobey Maguire is Bobby Fischer in this tense evocation of the Cold War chess showdown of the early-1970s. Rated 3½ stars out of 4. Several theaters.
If you didn’t live through the hysteria that accompanied the Cold War chess showdown between Bobby Fischer and his Soviet opponent, Liz Garbus’ 2011 documentary, “Bobby Fischer Against the World” does a pretty good job of capturing the circus on film.
Even better is director Edward Zwick’s tense, smart drama, “Pawn Sacrifice,” starring Tobey Maguire in a career-changing performance as the world’s most famous — and troubled — chess champion.
Whether he’s demonstrating precocious gamesmanship or suggesting how abrasive and prejudicial Fischer could be, he’s riveting.
The movie was partly produced by Maguire, and it delivers: both as a vehicle for an actor who’s usually most effective as an endearing adolescent (“Pleasantville”) and as a gritty, convincing portrait of a young man who spent so much time in the public eye it destroyed him. It could almost be subtitled “The Price of Fame.”
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Zwick, who made the exceptional nuclear thriller, “Special Bulletin,” once more proves his gift for generating suspense in his handling of the chess games the whole world watched in the early 1970s. Steven Knight’s tight script gives the supporting cast plenty to chew on.
Especially impressive are Peter Sarsgaard as a priest who becomes Fischer’s competitive adviser and Michael Stuhlbarg as his frustrated manager. The latter stole the show in the Coen brothers’ “ Serious Man,” and he almost does it again here.