"Pawn Sacrifice," a film premiering at the Toronto
International Film Festival on Thursday, chronicles not only the
rise of the young American grandmaster but how hard it was to
get him to his crowning moment, the famous "Match of the
Century" in 1972 against Soviet rival Boris Spassky.
Fischer, played by Tobey Maguire, is rude, inappropriate,
anti-Semitic, unpredictable, brilliant, and as director Edward
Zwick says, "probably paranoid and delusional." He is also a
cultural hero ill-equipped to handle his celebrity.
Spassky is, on the other hand, a cool cat who enjoys the
privileges as an icon of the Soviet state. He is played by Liev
Schreiber, who speaks Russian in much of the film in what the
actor called "one of the scariest things I have ever done."
Spassky, the world champion, and Fischer, the challenger, find
themselves in a Cold War proxy battle when they agree to the
"Match of the Century" to be played in Iceland. On the
newscasts, their showdown upstages the Vietnam War and the
break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in
what would become the Watergate scandal.
"I don't think it was about America or the Russian program for
either of them," said Schreiber. "I think it was about being No.
'APPRECIATE THE EXQUISITENESS'
The irascible Fischer threatens to upend the competition at
every turn, demanding more money and going missing right before
he is to fly to Reykjavik, much to the frustration of his
handlers, a savvy lawyer and a patient priest played by Michael
Stuhlbarg and Peter Sarsgaard.
Once there, Fischer doesn't show for one match and won't proceed
unless he and Spassky play in a ping-pong room away from the
crowd. Spassky agrees even though he could win the championship
[to top of second column]
"To Boris' credit, he wanted Bobby to be at his best," said
Schreiber. "I don't think Boris wanted to meet a lesser Bobby."
Fischer told an interviewer that what he enjoyed most was seeing his
opponent crumble inside as he realized all was lost. When that
moment comes for Spassky, Schreiber said he and Maguire played it
out in blissful silence.
Despite having surrendered the Soviet Union's decades-long world
chess supremacy, Spassky does the unthinkable, standing up and
applauding his opponent on stage.
"As driven as he was to win, he loved the game so much that he
couldn't help smile and appreciate the exquisiteness of what Fischer
did to him," said Schreiber.
Zwick said audiences should not be intimidated if they don't know a
pawn sacrifice, a Sicilian defense or any other move.
Chess, he has discovered, "tends to be about the dominance of one
personality by another."
The film went to Toronto seeking a distributor and new company
Bleecker Street bought the North American rights. "Pawn Sacrifice"
will be released in 2015.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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