Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)

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.