Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Pawn Sacrifice

The visually splendid but otherwise horrendous “Pan” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Chess is a game of immense skill and strategy. At least it is if you care enough about it to get good enough to become a master or grand master chess player. The hours of thinking, planning, and measured concentration that go into high level chess playing is extraordinary. Chess itself, while a quiet and not overtly exciting game, can be riveting to watch. When two chess masters face one another, there is palpable tension in the air.

In director Edward Zwick’s “Pawn Sacrifice,” the chess masters in question are Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) and Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber). It’s the Cold War, and Spassky is the Soviet Union’s grand master champion as well as the number one ranked competitive chess player in the world. The United States turns its eyes to Bobby Fischer, a young chess prodigy who seeks to challenge Spassky and take the number one ranking. From the mid-1960s through the early 1970s, Fischer’s star is on the rise, eventually achieving acclaim and celebrity akin to rock stars. It’s too bad that he’s a hate spouting paranoiac who, frankly, is kind of an asshole.

There’s no glossing over that, even if Zwick and company wanted to. Fischer was way too famous in his heyday, and his belief in a Jewish global conspiracy is well known. Making that even more interesting is the fact that Fischer is a Jew. What—did they have a whole conspiracy planned and not tell him? Is that why he’s bitter? He also thought the Soviets were spying on him. Many a hotel phone was ruined in his travels, simply due to his fear of someone listening in.

Zwick and Maguire make the smart choice in their portrayal of Fischer in “Pawn Sacrifice” and just own it. This is a movie that says yeah, we know who this guy is and what he’s like—we’re not going to sugar coat his behavior, but we also want to tell this amazing story of what this clearly disturbed and troubled man accomplished.

Fischer is not alone in his travels. He has the help of Paul Marshall (Michael Stuhlbarg), a lawyer who believes in Fischer and becomes his agent and representative, and Bill Lombardy (Peter Sarsgaard), a Catholic Priest and chess expert who is hired to travel with Fischer and keep his game sharp. They both bear the brunt of Fischer’s antics, but Marshall gets it most of all. Lombardy may be the man of God, but it’s Marshall who has the patience of a saint.

Everything leads up to the big chess tournament between Fischer and Spassky. It’s televised and featured on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger watch, and even call to wish Fischer the best of luck. There’s more at stake than a chess match, or Fischer’s quest for personal glory. It’s a showdown between the US and the USSR, between capitalism and communism, between democracy and socialism. It’s the Cold War being played out on a one square foot board between two men at the top of their game, while the world looks on in eager anticipation of the outcome. Chess doesn’t get much more intense and thrilling than that. Buy it: Pawn Sacrifice Blu-Ray from Amazon.

Also New This Week:


Verticality. That’s one accolade that I will give to “Pan.” Most action in most adventure movies happens on a horizontal plane, with the occasional dip into the up and down. The action in “Pan” takes the opposite approach. Most of the action is up and down, with occasional trips into sidewise territory. Pirates bungee on ropes, ships ascend and descend in the air, and jumping and flying are constant components in fight scenes.

If only such innovative action was put to use in a better movie. The plot is serviceable enough: orphan Peter (Levi Miller) is captured by pirates led by the notorious Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), and taken to Neverland. There he meets Hook (Garrett Hedlund) and joins forces with young jungle warrior Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) and her rebellious tribe of “lost” children.

The sets and costumes are certainly colorful and creative, and I was amused by the pirate renditions of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop.” Hugh Jackman chews the scenery with glee, and I really liked Hedlund’s very direct and straightforward performance. He plays Hook with confidence to spare, and as a man who means every word he says. In the age of wishy-washy characters who are riddled with self-doubt, it’s refreshing to see someone who knows who he is and makes no apologies.

In spite of the little things that I like about “Pan,” I can’t shake the sense that the whole movie is generally underwhelming. Solutions come too easily for the heroes in their struggles, and the grand finale where Peter leads the fairies to fight the pirates is a muddled CGI-laden cop out. The movie also suffers from some especially sappy and ham fisted dialogue. “Pan” is a whole lot of spectacle with not a lot going on underneath. I very marginally say to Rent it for the bits of superficial fun and amusement it provides. Just be sure to bring plenty of crackers with you when you watch it, because you’re about to get served a lot of cheese.

More New Releases: “Dragon Blade,” starring Jackie Chan as Huo An, a disgraced Chinese official during the Han dynasty, who forms an unlikely alliance with a legion of defected Roman soldiers led by Lucius (John Cusack); “Nightmares,” horror anthology from 1983 with four stories based on urban legends; “War Room,” about marital strife and a child caught in the middle of it; and “The Brain that Wouldn’t Die,” good ol’ fashioned midnight drive-in horror schlock from 1962.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

Cron Job Starts