by Calum Macleod
THE Cold War was an ideological conflict fought on many fronts, from a real shooting war in the jungles of Vietnam to a more intellectual form of warfare on the chess board.
Against Soviet domination of the game, the USA had a prodigy of its own in Bobby Fischer, although ironically enough, his own family background was Russian on his mother’s side.
However, as this biopic shows, Fischer was rather a fragile figure to hold the hopes of the Free World.
At heart, this is an actor’s film and as such a good showcase for Tobey Maguire, who seems to have been rather quiet since hanging up his Spider-man costume, although I suspect his version of the chess genius is rather more sympathetic than the real one.
Narcissistic, paranoia and given to anti-semitic rants despite, as his despairing sister points out, being Jewish himself, Fischer would be a hard person to root for except that Maguire manages to inject him with some of the quirky likability he brought to webslinger Peter Parker.
Set up as "the poor kid from Brooklyn against the whole Soviet empire" by lawyer Paul Marshall (Michael Stuhlbarg), a mix of shyster and patriot, Fischer is pushed into a showdown with Soviet grandmaster Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) who, with his sunglasses, ever present entourage and easy confidence is the closest thing the 1960s USSR has to a rock star.
It is a David and Goliath tale with the USA in the unlikely David position and a scene where Fischer finds himself in a flea bag hotel while the Soviet players are booked into a high end hotel echoes Rocky IV and Rocky’s improvised training sessions while his Russian opponent is feted with the best resources the USSR can bring to the training room.
Director Edward Zwick is experienced in bringing full scale battles to the stay in the likes of Glory and The Last Samurai, but he still manages to bring drama to the more intimate setting of the board.
What happens? Chess prodigy Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) fights against his own demons to eventually come face to face with Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) in Reykjavík for chess’s "game of the century".
Best quote? Bobby Fischer: "I want to play the Russians. They are the best in the world and I’m going to beat ‘em all."
Who for? Well, not just chess fans. There is plenty of drama away from the chess board to keep the interest, both personal and political.
Quick review? A typical Hollywood sports biopic (even if it is sport played sitting down), made watchable by lead Tobey Maguire and some fine acting support.>