THE BOBBY FISCHER biopic Pawn Sacrifice seems to have been made not because someone had insight into the chess champion's character, but because someone realized Bobby Fischer was famous but didn't have a biopic yet. Directed with earnest blandness by Edward Zwick (Glory, The Last Samurai) from a script by Steven Knight (Eastern Promises), the film follows the standard biopic formula, starting with Bobby as an intense, precocious kid who becomes America's youngest chess champion—and then becomes a paranoid, temperamental adult played by Tobey Maguire. Though given to anti-Semitic rants and conspiracy theories, when Bobby plays chess, he's nearly unbeatable.
A 1972 face-off against Russian master Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber in a thankless role) unites the world in Cold War fervor, but Zwick captures little of the gameplay excitement, focusing instead on Bobby's erratic (but cinematically uninteresting) behavior. Michael Stuhlbarg and Peter Sarsgaard help out as Bobby's perpetually overworked handlers, and Maguire struggles valiantly to give his underwritten protagonist some depth. But the film has no climax or resolution, giving the impression that its only purpose was to list the major events of Bobby Fischer's life. It's all whats and whens, no whys.