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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Pawn Sacrifice is a biopic about famous chess player Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire), set mostly during his famous 1972 world championship match against Russia's Boris Spassky. While chess is crucial to the story, the film really focuses on Fischer -- particularly on his tenuous mental condition, featuring several incidents that seem to tip toward madness. Expect plenty smoking (accurate for the era) and some drinking, as well as occasional swearing (including "s--t" and one "f--k") and a few brief suggestions of sexuality. Teens, especially if they're interested in chess, may appreciate it.
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What's the story?
Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) may be the best chess player on Earth. He certainly thinks so, but to prove it, he'll need to beat reigning world champion Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) in this biopic set mainly during their famous 1972 match in Iceland. The duo's epic chessboard duel also serves as a Cold War battleground, pitting the eccentric American against the methodical Russian. But even before he sits down to play, Fischer must overcome another significant opponent: his not-so-stable mental state, which threatens to derail the match.
Is it any good?
PAWN SACRIFICE is a fascinating look at high-level chess, but it's really about genius, madness, and the tenuous connection between them. Fischer is a wonder when he sits down to play, but when he's not engaged in a match, his life is -- at best -- a juggling act of coherence, paranoia, and delusion, making him often impossible to deal with. Maguire deserves lots of credit for bringing these complicated feelings to the screen, giving a compelling performance. It's not always clear whether Fischer's behavior is really due to mental illness or whether he's just trying to intimidate his opponents, and Maguire deftly depicts him as man on the edge, who may or may not have fallen off.
Director Edward Zwick wrings the tension out of chess moves that few audience members would grasp; he's helped by Peter Sarsgaard as Fischer's friend/coach, Father Bill Lombardy, whose facial expressions let viewers know whether a move is a blunder or an example of genius. Zwick also manages to imbue the matches with the sociopolitical implications they once carried, which were placed on Fischer's already-burdened shoulders. In the end, we definitely care about the outcome of the match, but we care more about the man who's moving the pieces.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how this approach to a biopic compares to other, more encompassing ones. Do you prefer stories that focus on one specific time/event in a historical figure's life (like Lincoln) or the ones that take a more sweeping view of the actor's whole life (Ray, Walk the Line)? What are the challenges that a biopic faces in depicting its subject? Do you think filmmakers ever tweak the facts? Why?
How is smoking portrayed in the movie? Does the impact of seeing characters smoke change when you're watching a movie set in the past?
Talk about Fischer's mental state, as portrayed in the movie. Do you think he was mentally ill? Or was he acting that way to throw off his opponents? Or both?
- In theaters: September 16, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: December 22, 2015
- Cast: Tobey Maguire, Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard
- Director: Edward Zwick
- Studio: Bleecker Street
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Run time: 116 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: brief strong language, some sexual content and historical smoking
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.