SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER, 1993
Starring: Max Pomeranc, Joe Mantegna, Joan Allen, Ben Kingsley, Laurence Fishburne, David Paymer
The true life story of pre-pubescent chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin first learning the ropes of how to play chess.
The bad things with these child prodigy movies like this (or even reading about child prodigies online), is that on the one hand you feel inspired by their story... but on the other hand you hate them for being able to do something amazingly well at the age of 9 that you have yet to master after living your whole life!
7-year old Josh Waitzkin is your typical kid: he loves baseball, playing with his friends in the park, water basketball, etc. That is until one day at Washington Square when he sees the plethora of chess games being played.
He goes back with his mom to watch the chess players again (despite her wanting them to leave the place of gambling and drug selling). And that's it. Not only is Josh enthralled by the game, but in just those two occasions of seeing it played, he has the game all figured out! In his first attempt at playing, he catches a grand master off guard with a check (though he loses that game).
When Josh's mom tells his dad about it, the man refuses to believe his son even knows how the game is played and forces the boy to play him. Josh lets him win the first game (of course his dad won't believe the game was thrown) but when his mom tells him it's ok to beat his dad, he does so with only a fraction of his attention on the game (the rest of his attention goes to playing with his sister, talking on the phone with a friend, and taking a bath where he literally calls out the moves by memory).
Shocked and proud, Josh's dad seeks out Bruce Pandolfini to teach his son the finer points of the game. At first, Bruce refuses, but after watching Josh play in the park changes his tune and admits that the boy is a prodigy that could be the next Bobby Fisher (who at the time was still missing from the world eye).
Vinnie, from the park, teaches Josh speed chess and how chess is played on the streets. Bruce teaches Josh the classical aspects of the game including drilling him with endgame setups and lecturing him about bringing his queen out too early. All the while Josh's dad takes him to chess tournaments all over the east coast where the boy is unbeatable.
That is until the appearance of Jonathan Poe, another chess prodigy who is actually younger than Josh and has already been playing for years! Josh is completely psyched out by this younger would-be adversary and begins to fear losing. He quickly loses interest and joy in the game out of fear of having to play (and possibly lose) to Poe.
This is the movie that actually got me interested in the game of chess at a young age. I went on to join the chess club in junior high and high school where I went on to win a LOT of tournaments (although I never got REALLY good. My USCF rating never rose higher than 1000). Actually, watching this movie again makes me want to seriously get back into tournament play. Maybe I'll renew my membership after writing this review and check out some local tournaments and chess clubs.
The acting in this film is good all around except for young Max Pomeranc who played the role of Josh Waitzkin. He was 9 years old at the time and it was his first film ever... but I refuse to believe the casting director couldn't find a better child for the role. This kid seemed so bland and emotionless. The only time I believed that he was actually feeling something was in one of the final scenes when he raises his eyebrows in a dismayed expression when his opponent laughs at him as if he's made some horrible mistake. It pains me to see such a bad actor in a role like this that could have been far more powerful in the hands of someone with better acting chops.
The cinematography in this film was amazing. There were so many great shots and the film used rack focusing to the best it could be! Granted, there were a few times when it was predicatble (oh, we're going to rack from the menacing piece that has the opponent in checkmate to the hung king again? Ok!), but all in all the film looked amazing.
The music in this film really fit the moods it needed to portray in each scene while also feeling like the music wasn't even there and I was just feeling it on my own. When this happens (you feel a certain way without realizing it's the music doing it), you know you have a great soundtrack on your hands!
The American Film Institute listed “Searching for Bobby Fisher” as one of the 100 most inspiring films of all time, and I completely agree with them. This film is nothing short of amazing (except for the lead role being played by a poor actor). And it definitely makes me want to go to a park and find a marble chess table and start a game with some drug dealers... OR play in a tournament. Either, or.
I give “Searching for Bobby Fisher” a 4 out of 5.
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