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Edward Zwick
Tobey Maguire, Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard
Writing Credits:
Steven Knight

Set during the Cold War, American chess prodigy Bobby Fischer finds himself caught between two superpowers and his own struggles as he challenges the Soviet Empire.

Rated PG-13.

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 116 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 12/22/2015

• “Bobby Fischer, The Cold War and The Match of the Century” Featurette
• Previews


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Pawn Sacrifice [Blu-Ray] (2015)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 15, 2022)

It seems difficult to envision a less fan-friendly competitive event than chess, but 50 years ago, its shining star occupied the public attention. For a look at this era, we head to 2015’s Pawn Sacrifice.

As a nine-year-old in 1952, Bobby Fischer (Aiden Lovekamp) displays preternatural skill as a chess player. He rises through the ranks until he becomes the pre-eminent US talent by the age of 19 (Tobey Maguire).

Smack in the middle of the Cold War, this pits Bobby against the Soviets, and Bobby craves the chance to beat top player Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber). This leads toward an internationally-noteworthy 1972 battle in Iceland.

That summary might lead one to believe Pawn will offer a pretty standard Rocky IV-style tale of the American underdog vs. the Russian behemoth. The movie builds the Soviets as the best of the best, and while it touts Fischer’s skills, it does case him as the one who needs to battle the toppermost.

However, anyone with even a fleeting knowledge of Fischer’s history realizes that he provided a complicated and problematic character in real life. Due to those issues, Pawn also attempts to cover its lead character’s mental concerns.

Unfortunately, Pawn never seems sure where it wants to focus. It touches on both domains but does so in such an inconsistent manner that it turns into a somewhat muddled tale.

Pawn simply can’t pull off the story’s dual nature in a compelling manner. Because the film lacks focus, neither side receives he exploration it needs to deliver a strong narrative.

It feels like Pawn really wants to go into the implied “David vs. Goliath” theme, but I understand why those involved felt the need to delve into Fischer's psychological state. Those domains remain too well-known to even casual observers for the tale to ignore them.

However, Pawn handles Fischer’s mental condition in such a superficial manner that it becomes an albatross. Pawn can’t dig into the material with the depth it needs to satisfy.

The competition scenes don’t work all that well either, mainly because the film just doesn’t convey the matches in a manner that comes across as particularly compelling. Director Edward Zwick fails to bring much real drama to the scenes so they tend to fall flat.

Maguire tries his best as our lead, but he can’t lose his natural “nice guy” charm and that makes him an awkward match for the prickly, abrasive Fischer. It also doesn’t help that the movie asks then-39-year-old Maguire to play Fischer from ages 19 to 29. While Maguire looks young for his age, he can’t pull off late teens or early 20s.

Schreiber gets stuck with an underdeveloped part, and supporting actors like Peter Sarsgaard and Michael Stuhlbarg find even less room to develop. Though we find an impressive cast, the parts lack depth.

The basic story in Pawn proves sturdy enough to mean it keeps the viewer moderately involved. Unfortunately, it never turns into anything worthy of the ample talent involved.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus D-

Pawn Sacrifice appears in an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This turned into a more than satisfying presentation.

When appropriate, sharpness looked good. Only the slightest hint of softness affected some interiors, and those examples occurred too infrequently to cause problems.

Instead, the film looked concise and well-defined. Exceptions came from material intended to look “vintage” but those were inevitable given the photographic choices.

No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects occurred, and edge enhancement was absent. I also failed to detect any source flaws – outside of some that came with archival footage or those shots intended to look “old”.

In terms of colors, the movie featured a palette that favored a strong golden/orange tone along with a lot of teal. Across the board, the hues looked fine within those parameters, although they became almost comical in their intensity.

Blacks were dark and deep, while shadows appeared clear and smooth. Even with the intentionally “flawed” shots, I thought the movie consistently looked positive.

I thought that the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Pawn seemed fine but it didn’t excel because of a lack of ambition. Like most character dramas, the movie featured a limited soundfield that favored the forward channels.

It showed nice stereo spread to the music as well as some general ambience from the sides. Panning was decent, and the surrounds usually kicked in basic reinforcement.

Audio quality appeared good. Speech was natural and distinct, with no issues related to edginess or intelligibility.

Effects sounded clean and accurate, with good fidelity and no signs of distortion. Music was perfectly fine, as the score and songs showed positive dimensionality. This track was good enough for a “B-“ but didn’t particularly impress.

A featurette called Bobby Fischer, The Cold War and The Match of the Century runs three minutes, 17 seconds. It provides notes from producer Gail Katz, director Edward Zwick, and actors Tobey Maguire, Liev Schreiber and Peter Sarsgaard.

“War” discusses story/characters. Little real information appears during this promo piece.

The disc opens with ads for Trumbo, Everest, Danny Collins and I’ll See You In My Dreams. No trailer for Pawn appears here.

A mix of competition drama and psychological study, Pawn Sacrifice fails to prosper in either mode. The movie offers decent entertainment but it falls short of its goals. The Blu-ray comes with solid picture, adequate audio and skimpy supplements. Though watchable, the movie disappoints.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
0 3:
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