30 April 2016 | DeeNine-2
Worth seeing but a bit disappointing
This is a nice vehicle for Tobey Maguire who does a good job of portraying a paranoid schizophrenic, but that person is not Robert James Fischer. They got Maguire's hair style right but otherwise any resemblance between the tall, lanky, expansive Bobby Fischer and Maguire is slight. He probably didn't see enough footage of Fischer at that age. He didn't use any of Fischer's mannerisms that I noticed and of course Fischer was several inches taller. Liev Schreiber who played Spassky actually looks a bit like Spassky but is bigger and more robust. So we have in the movie Fischer vs. Spassky at the chess board but Spassky bigger than Fischer! As for games mentioned in some detail I had to go back to the first and sixth games of the match to recall what happened and to compare my perception with that of the commentary in the movie. The sixth game was a brilliant game as almost everybody agrees, but contrary to some popular opinion Fischer did not blunder away his bishop in game one. He and Spassky were in a clearly drawn bishop and pawn ending. He wanted more, but there was nothing he could do, so what he did was sacrifice his bishop for two pawns, not as some people think in an attempt to win the game but to show his confidence and to shake Spassky up a bit. Fischer thought the resulting position after many moves would be a draw. He was wrong but this is an example of Fischer psychology: I will make you play a hundred moves if necessary just to show you how strong I am. You will weaken not me.
Some reviewers pointed out some chessic type errors but there weren't that many and they were minor. Here's one they got right that may surprise some people. Notice that Fischer used the descriptive notation ("P-K4") while most other grandmasters even back in 1972 used algebraic notation ("e4"). And while there were chess clock on analyst boards where they serve no purpose at least the boards were set up right with the white square at the player's right hand, avoiding a common error in movies.
Probably the biggest error had nothing to do with chess but with the fact that Fischer's mental illness at the time of the Spassky match had not developed as much as the movie suggests. His personality was more rounded than displayed. He actually had a charming side. People liked him in spite his bad manners and selfishness. There's a YouTube video of him on TV with Bob Hope filmed sometime shortly after the match with Spassky that shows a very different Fischer than the one Maguire portrayed.
The bit with the girl (sarcastically she says to Fischer: "it was good for me too" as he studies a chess game in bed) was apparently director Edward Zwick's take on the nagging question of Fischer's sexuality, meaning yes he was heterosexual, but chess was just more interesting.
The real disappointment for me was that they did not make clear the really great triumphant of Fischer's preceding the championship match. He destroyed three of the top grandmasters en route to the title match, at one point winning 20 games in a row. Amazing. The greatest streak in grandmaster history. So he was a clear favorite although Spassky was the World Champion. That's why he wanted so much to win the first game and confirm immediately that he was clearly superior.
I was also disappointed that Fischer's life after winning the championship was not explored. I had hoped for a cinematic take on what happened to "The Wandering King" (the title of a book about his life by Hans Bohm and Kees Jongkind). Perhaps that material would be better presented in a documentary than in a popular flick.
Bottom line: worth seeing but not as good as I had hoped.
--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"