This movie may be what little many of us really know about Bobby Fischer, those of us who aren't chess fanatics or into reading about antisemetics and deportation in action.

Although not entirely. It also purports itself to be a true story, of sorts.

The movie involves Josh, a chess prodigy who is only 7 or 8 or so, but extremely gifted, and how he grows to find himself in chess.

It's also very much about how adults want their children to become things, to fit into certain molds or ideas, and how in order to allow our children to really grow, we have to release them from those ideals, least we destroy them.

Which is of course part of the great tragedy of the brilliant life of Bobby Fischer...the man is amazing, and brilliant, but a total loon. He snapped, and is now far more about the madness which drives him than the amazing art he made of chess.

Joe Mantegna is his usual brilliant self as the father figure who has to learn to let go while supporting. Joan Allen is the mother who knew all along, but has to get used to the idea that in his own way, her son is growing out of her life. Reverberations of Big Man Tate, if you will.

Ben Kingsley is amazing as the man who defines the art of chess, and wants dearly to prevent the creation of another Bobby Fischer. He shines, oh he shines. Heh. My kitten things that I am silly. This is likely so.

A rainy day drama to watch with the wife. Your kids may not quite like it, there's a lot of undertones to it. And the thinner, pre-morpheus Laurence Fishburne may lead to total non-plusment. But what do they know?

The video version of this had a really irritating interview after the credits with the real Josh (now in his teens) and his father where they proceeded to praise themselves for the next several minutes. Avoid at all costs, if you wish to continue to be able to watch this movie and feel good about it.

Ben Kingsley is the man.

Not surpringly, Fischer despises the film. He's a complete looney tune, but he has a point on this one; the film really does exploit his name without giving him a cent or even asking for his permission. Perhaps understandable for a biography, but this isn't. I doubt Michael Jordan would sit back and allow a movie called Searching for Michael Jordan to be made about wacky little basketball freaks.

Of course, Michael Jordan would be more likely to hire lawyers than to blame it on world Jewry.

Searching For Bobby Fischer (1993)

Director: Steven Zaillian
Cast Notables:
Josh Waitzkin - Max Pomeranc
Fred Waitzkin - Joe Mantegna
Bonnie Waitzkin - Joan Allen
Bruce Pandolfini - Ben Kingsley
Vinnie - Laurence Fishburne


Searching For Bobby Fischer chronicles the rise of chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin from his discovery of chess to his first major national tournament. Despite the title, it has nothing at all to do with Bobby Fischer, save for the name.

It is based on a true story, which is the book of the same title, written by Josh's father, Fred, who is a sports journalist in New York. Josh ends up being tutored by two different schools of teacher. Bruce Pandolfini, a widely famed U.S. chess teacher, who's written scores of books and has a regular column in Chess Life magazine, and Vinnie, the drug addict speed-chess player that Josh plays in Washington Park.

Meanwhile, there is, of course, the evil child prodigy, who is never named, but I caught his name on a scoresheet when I paused the movie once, and it seemed to be "Jonathan Poe." There has only ever been one Jonathan Poe who played rated games in the U.S., and he is rated 900 or so to this day. I really doubt that this was Josh's nemesis. That all being said, the "evil" kid had no social skills, and his parents had removed him from school so that he could devote himself to full-time chess study. Nice folks.

The Review

This movie is really heart warming, and can be enjoyed by people who could care less about chess. It's really a story about the people involved in Josh's life. If I had to classify the movie, it'd by under "Family movies about selfishness." As the whip from Pandolfini (who is certain that Waitzkin is the next Fischer) drives the 8 year old boy on and the selfish father drags the boy all over the country to tournaments and keeps Josh's trophies to himself, on a mantle in his bedroom, I am continually amazed at how reflective this is of the real lives of prodigies, even if this is a watered-down version told by one of the main characters.

It shows in grim detail the world of 'chess parents', and their inhuman drive to make their children win, regardless of how it affects the child. I've been to many tournaments that had kids playing, and their overbearing parents are enough to make you puke. This is one aspect of the story that strikes a perfect chord. At one point, though, a fistfight breaks out between two of the parents at one tournament, and for the remainder of the games, the parents are kept in the cellar. I thought that was a nice touch.

Ben Kingsley plays the dispassionate Pandolfini, and sports some kind of weird pseudo-irish accent (for unknown reasons, as Pandolfini is a New Yorker). Ben Kingsley is a great actor, but he seems to fall short of impressing me in this movie. He isn't bad, but he's not as good as he should be.

Max Pomeranc, who plays Josh, is entirely too cute and is filled with sappy little eight year old things to say. He does an overall decent job of playing the role, but it seems like the director is continually shoving in your face "Look, see how cute he is? Isn't he adorable?" in ways that, at best, only peripherally add to the story.

Laurence Fishburn is great as the street-savvy chess-hustler from Wash. Park. This is another one of those little pieces of the chess world that most chess players never see, and nobody else would probably want to. He teaches strong attacking tactical play as a contrast to Pandolfini's teaching the boy more positional maneuvers.

A couple of cameos spice up the movie for chess fans. Both GM Kamran Shirazi and the real Bruce Pandolfini make appearances in the movie.

All in all, Searching For Bobby Fischer gets two out of four stars. It's an average movie, and safe for family viewing. Add another star if you're a chess player.

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