The American chess prodigy Bobby Fischer has featured a lot here at Observation Blogger. One of my favourite documentaries – Bobby Fischer Against The World was reviewed here at Friday’s Finest back in January this year. Today’s movie Searching for Bobby Fischer is about another child chess prodigy from the United States – Josh Waitzkin. I have seen this movie many times and always found it inspiring and emotionally powerful. My daughter Katherine started playing chess at 5 years-old and we play regularly; so I also have this neat family connection with the movie.
Searching for Bobby Fischer is a quintessential ‘Family Movie’, but it might be construed too sacharine for some, but I find its charm is in the innocence and good-nature of the young protagonist and his rise to fame in the chess community. How they weave Bobby Fischer’s legendary history (appearing in newsreel footage) and his disappearance from the chess-scene with this quaint family story is fascinating. Moreover, it’s a film of remarkable sensitivity and insight.
Josh Waitzkin is just a typical American boy interested in baseball when one day he challenges his father at chess and wins (see video below). Showing unusual precocity at the outdoor matches at Washington Square in New York City, he quickly makes friends with a hustler named Vinnie who teaches him speed chess. Josh’s parents hire a renowned chess coach, Bruce, who teaches Josh the usefulness of measured planning. Along the way Josh becomes tired of Bruce’s system and chess in general and purposely throws a match, leaving the prospects of winning a national championship in serious jeopardy.
Ben Kingsley’s performance as Josh Waitzkin’s flawed, but impassioned chess-coach is one for the ages. Not to mention young Max Pomeranc’s acting playing the young Josh Waitzkin in this his film debut is wonderful. The film is adapted from the book of the same name by Joshua’s father Fred Waitzkin and was nominated for Best Cinematography in the 66th Academy Awards. The film has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 42 reviews, with an average rating of 8.10/10. Some famous chess players have brief cameos in the film: Anjelina Belakovskaia, Joel Benjamin, Roman Dzindzichashvili, Kamran Shirazi, (amongst others) along with the real Joshua Waitzkin.
The creativity in this film is impressive. One of my favorite scenes is when Bruce (Kingsley) is teaching Josh (Pomerac) the dynamics of chess, and when the camera flips back and forth between the chess pieces, each time building up the conversation, and going up the ladder of significant pieces. Powerful scene, with powerful lessons. And finally…the score. I am a huge admirer of James Horner’s soundtracks including Braveheart, Apollo 13 and Titanic. Below, I have added the scene from the movie when Josh defeates his father in a chess game, which I always found very cheeky and entertaining.