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Scott Ventura >> Movie Commentary >> January 2001 >> Searching for Bobby Fischer

Searching for Bobby Fischer

Movie Commentary by Scott Ventura


Scott's Rating:
3 / 5
Times Seen:
Viewing Date:
January 2001
IMDB Name:
Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)
Steven Zaillian
MPAA Rating:

First Law

According to Roger Ebert, that doyen of cinematic critique, a movie is not about what it is about, but about how it is about it. I was thinking about this watching Searching for Bobby Fischer. It could be a movie about a father/son relationship told the classic sports formula by way of chess. I could also say it's a story of a chess prodigy wrapped in the more conventional trapping of a father/son relationship movie. The movie does petty well on both counts, but I felt like more time was needed to let the characters breathe. With two parents and two teachers, some of them are bound to be short changed to keep the movie under two hours. All four of them are played well enough that their characters feel more fully-realized than we're allowed to see, which made me want a little bit more. Writer-director Steven Zaillian is apparently not the juggler required to keep all of the film's elements in the air, but glimpses of the movie's potential occur often enough to maintain interest.

I was disappointed at the overly conventional approach to some of the movie. I laughed when they introduced the Evil Chess Kid, who is given no redeeming characteristics beyond chess skill. In order to make sure we never like him, he doesn't speak for himself except for a handful of lines at the end. His sneer and his teacher's braggadocio take away any appeal, which makes them seem exaggerated. I laughed when the weather changed suddenly to let father and son have a serious talk in the rain.

Most of the cast put in credible performances. Mercifully, the screenplay did not require any of them to recite wheezy dialogue. Newcomer Max Pomeranc plays his part so naturally that it barely looks like acting. Joe Mantegna and Ben Kingsley are the most prominently featured adults, and take the opportunity to show their dramatic chops. Joan Allen and Laurence Fishburne make the most of their screen time, and their characterizations deserve more generous treatment. Personal favorites David Paymer, Dan Hedaya, Tony Shalhoub, and William H. Macy have brief parts that demonstrate their skills as character actors.

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Copyright 2001 by Scott Ventura. All rights reserved.