Not quite a political thriller, and not quite a sports drama, Pawn Sacrifice straddles too many genres to produce a satisfying experience. The film charts Bobby Fischer’s rapid rise with his often erratic and reclusive behavior. Fischer’s life story is compelling, it’s perhaps the best example of the boundless nature of chess. The film aptly relates chess to art and the pursuit of excellence as a rabbit hole. Through the motif of shallow focus, a sense of the depth is brought into the foreground–an infinite amount of moves.
But the film falters as it ties chess concepts to the looming Cold War backdrop. Fischer’s face-off with Russia was indeed a media sensation at the time due to rising tension, but the film introduces its politics in heavy-handed fashion. The gravity of the situation, and how it relates to Fischer is repeatedly told–through side characters and newsreels, but never seen. Its frenetic, unorganized protagonist leaves behind a film that’s no better.