The focus on chess was one thing, but what I enjoyed the most was observing how the styles of Bruce Pandolfini (Ben Kingsley) and street player Vinnie (Laurence Fishburne) clashed and eventually came together to mold young Josh Waitzkin (Max Pomeranc) into the kind of chess master he was capable of becoming. The story itself is a rather formulaic one that parallels a lot of the better sports movies. The central character initially shows signs of being a prodigy, wins a lot of contests, suffers a moment of self doubt when another excellent player threatens to outshine him, withdraws from playing for a while, and then returns to victory at which point the accolades flow for the victor. What's more meaningful for Josh, and particularly for the viewer, is the human dynamic at play between Josh and his father (Joe Mantegna), who shows signs of being the ultimate 'sports dad', but realizes before it's too late that he needs to maintain his son's respect ahead of winning at all costs. The film managed to strike a very fine balance in that regard, with Josh's Mom (Joan Allen) holding her husband's feet to the fire.
The only thing that troubled me in the story was Pandolfini's attempt to persuade Josh to hold his opponents in contempt, a style that worked for chess champion Bobby Fischer, if you want to consider that Fischer's penchant for disappearing years at a time to be commendable. Josh wasn't built like Fischer, and so he greeted his opposition with an informal 'Hi' and didn't believe in going for the throat. The most memorable scene in the film occurs when Josh offered Jonathan Poe (Michael Nirenberg) an opportunity for a draw and a share in the championship. That was a very magnanimous gesture for a young kid to make, demonstrating a person of character rather than one who would win at any price. A very good lesson for youngsters and parents alike.
As a chess player, I'm not very good myself and could never get the hang of thinking twelve steps ahead the way the story hints at. Heck, I couldn't think past the next move in most cases, which would have made me very easy to beat by a seven year old master. Even if chess isn't your thing, there's value in watching this picture because it's more than just a story about winning and losing. It reveals how different paths can get one to a desired outcome, and how sometimes those paths can conflict yet come together to produce a champion.
Searching for Bobby Fischer
Action / Biography / Drama / Sport
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1 hr 50 min