The Coldest Game

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
The Coldest Game Movie Poster Image
Mindless spy thriller has drinking, language, violence.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 102 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Good defeats evil. Redemption is possible.

Positive Role Models & Representations

There are no positive role models.


Man is poisoned off screen, throws up blood, dies. Brutal fight ends in death by a broken neck. Men held at gunpoint. Vodka is forced down a man's throat. 


Occasional profanity, including "f--k," "bastards," "s--t," "goddamn," "c--t."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Excessive drinking, drunkenness throughout. Man is injected with drug against his will. Ricin is cause of death.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis is the backdrop for the fictional spy tale told in The Coldest Game. An international chess match between a Russian player and an American chess master is to be held in Warsaw just as the possibility of nuclear war escalates between their two countries. An alcoholic professor is recruited by U.S. intelligence officers to replace the original American player, who has died suddenly. What begins as a struggle for the professor simply to maintain sobriety and win the match turns into a high-stakes game of espionage and danger. In several violent scenes viewers will see torture, bloody deaths, as well as brutal fighting and menacing villains. Language includes: "f--k," "s--t," "c--t," "pissed," "goddamn." The lead character (and several supporting players) drinks lots of alcohol and gets seriously drunk throughout the movie. 

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What's the story?

In THE COLDEST GAME America is on the brink of nuclear war as Russian ships are on their way to Cuba, only 90 miles from the United States. The unidentified cargo is suspected to be offensive weaponry, a part of the Russian-Cuban effort to equip the island with ballistic missiles that have the capacity to reach the U.S. By chance, a highly-anticipated international chess match is to be held in Warsaw just as the Russian ships move toward their destination. In the scheduled match between the reigning Russian champion and a lauded U.S. master, the American has died suddenly. Rules allow a replacement. Josh Mansky (Bill Pullman), a formerly renowned chess master and university professor, but now a degenerate drunk and gambler, is approached by U.S. Intelligence officers. They implore him to substitute for his dead colleague. Barely able to stand on his feet, filthy, and often unintelligible, Mansky is recruited. What the hapless man doesn't know is that there's more than chess required of his services. Stealthy chases and narrow escapes will follow; bodies will fall; and in a blink of the eye (or a "King's Gambit"), Josh Mansky may become an unsung hero of the day.

Is it any good?

This ludicrous thriller with abysmal performances, an incoherent script, and routine plot twists that never surprise is sloppy, unconvincing, and thoroughly amateurish. There's no chance that the actual chess scenes will be boring or repetitive; there are no chess scenes. A few quick moves, a tap of the clock, and it's over. Instead, viewers get to see scene after scene of staggeringly drunken men misbehaving and mustache-twirling cartoon villains giving orders to lackeys. Intercut with those sequences, the filmmakers have used newsreel footage (some real, some not) to remind of the thin plot's high stakes. The Coldest Game has nothing to recommend for any age group. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the portrayal of alcoholism in The Coldest Game. Do you think the lead character's drunkenness is exaggerated to facilitate the plot? Did the alcohol dependency ever become laughable or unbelievable? What, if any, were the consequences for Mansky's behavior? 

  • "An innocent caught up in circumstances beyond his/her control" is a famous theme in the movie-thriller genre. How is The Coldest Game an example? Why do you think the genre is so appealing? Can you think of some film classics that used this plot? (Hint: Alfred Hitchcock was a master of movies like one.)

  • Use this film as a springboard for learning. The Cuban Missile Crisis was the closest the U.S. and Soviet Union ever came to nuclear war during the decades-long Cold War. Find out more about what really happened and how a catastrophic war was avoided. 

Movie details

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For kids who love thrills

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