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Pawn Sacrifice’ runs into biopic stalemate

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Tobey Maguire as Bobby Fischer in ‘Pawn Sacrifice.’

Two and a half stars

Pawn Sacrifice Tobey Maguire, Michael Stuhlbarg, Peter Sarsgaard. Directed by Edward Zwick. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.

Bobby Fischer was a chess champion, but in the tradition of suffering-genius biopics, Pawn Sacrifice is mainly interested in his mental anguish. Fischer’s rise as a child chess prodigy in the 1950s is covered quickly, so that the movie can focus on his descent into mental illness at the height of his popularity. Fischer (Tobey Maguire) becomes a Cold War symbol when he takes on Soviet chess master Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber), while his paranoid delusions threaten to destroy his career and his relationships. Those relationships (including with his opportunistic lawyer, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, and with a Catholic priest/chess coach played by Peter Sarsgaard) are pretty thinly drawn, and they follow typical biopic conventions of excitement followed by alienation. When the movie takes time to focus on a pivotal Fischer/Spassky match and really build the tension between the two, it conveys the excitement and intricacy of Fischer’s chess talents. Otherwise, it’s a superficial biography of a complex man.

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