Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)

Description[from Freebase]

Searching for Bobby Fischer is a 1993 film based on the life of prodigy chess player Joshua Waitzkin, played by Max Pomeranc. Adapted from the book of the same name by Joshua's father Fred, the film was written and directed by Steven Zaillian. In the United Kingdom the film was released under the title Innocent Moves. In the film, Josh Waitzkin's family discovers that he possesses a gift for chess and they seek to nurture it. They then hire a somewhat strict instructor, Bruce Pandolfini (played by Ben Kingsley) who aims to teach the boy to be as aggressive as chess legend Bobby Fischer. The title of the film is a metaphor about the character's quest to adopt the ideal of Fischer and his determination to greatly win at any price. Josh is also heavily influenced by Vinnie, a "speed chess" hustler (Laurence Fishburne) whom he met in Washington Square Park. The two instructors differ greatly in their strategies and some characteristics, and Pandolfini is upset that Josh continues to learn from Vinnie. The main conflict in the film arises when Josh refuses to adopt Fischer's misanthropic frame of reference.

Review

They should really let writers direct more often. Sure, they aren’t trained for it all the time, but it has a good track record. Take David Keopp (writer of the infamous The Lost World), the bane of modern literature when not directing, but able to turn out a stylish character drama and thriller when he is (The Trigger Effect). Then take a look at the independent world. Quentin Tarantino, and Steven Soderberg (Sex, Lies, and Videotape) to name a couple. Oh, yeah, Pleasantville, let’s not forget that one. And, of course, we have Steven Zallian, who turned out Awakenings and Schindler’s List, directing the family drama Searching for Bobby Fischer.

A family at its roots, the film follows the true story of chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin, a kind New York youth who teaches himself to play chess by watching other play in the park and rises to become the national youth champion. A story like this would have generated the money alone, but, unlike some of his counterparts in studio cinema, Steven Zaillian has never been content for a mediocre money-maker film. He brings in the element of family drama strongly showing how the relationshp between father and son is torn apart and brought together by the game.

Zallian’s pen leaves no character is left untouched, even the villians in the film are stikingly human. The chess teacher is brought in as the man who pushes Josh but still loves him. Lawrence Fishburne is the Central Park chessplayer who unconditionally cares for the boy. Joan Allen portrays the mother who only wants her son to remain decent, and cares more about him than the game itself.

The remarkable human element isn’t what surprised me about this film, it was it’s ability to do so without sacrificing any of the interest in the story, which moves quickly through the 110-minute long film. Face it, people, writers just do better when a like mind handles their project. After all, he turned out his own film and I have only one complaint: the little kid can’t pronouce an S worth a crap.

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