Searching for Bobby Fischer/B+,B
Paramount/1993/109/ANA 1.85

     The story of a child chess prodigy may not sound like scintillating movie material , but writer/director Steven Zaillian has fashioned an exciting, crisply paced film that succeeds on a number of levels.

Josh attacks the board. ©Paramount

      More than a film about a static board game, the heart of the movie centers around the relationships between parents and children. Many of the scenes at the chess tournaments are painful to watch as the pressure from family squeezes the joy of participation from these amazingly gifted kids. It's an easy step from prodigies at the chess board to the little league or the tennis courts where parents hover in the background often taking a game too seriously. It was especially interesting watching Searching for Bobby Fischer after coming home from a month long  tennis road trip of tournaments for my twelve year old daughter. We shared some grand laughs in the scenes depicting the tense and erratic behavior of parents. Even the best of parents must be constantly vigilant about the pitfalls of stepping over the lines of reason.
       The performances are uniformly excellent. Young Max Pomeranc has eyes that open into the heart and mind. He's totally comfortable in  front of the camera, and considering all those close-ups, it's a good thing. Joe Mantegna has a difficult task of finding some sympathy in a role that is shaded with far too much blackened arrogance. Joan Allen disappears into the role of Mom with her usual quiet perfection. Laurence Fishburne's Washington Square chess wizard packs the energy of two-minute chess games with a swifter patter than imaginable. The one cipher is Ben Kingsley as  Bruce Pandolfini. Kingsley uses an accent that ranges from Irish to English to off-center Brooklyn. I have no idea what the real Pandolfini sounded like, but Ben's delivery threw me off.
      Many of the filmed chess games depict speed chess, a variation of the game that races with the clock and  with rapid editing, Zaillian bypasses the static element of the checkered board. 
     Zaillian's use of close-ups with little or no dialogue is remarkable for its effectiveness. The photography by Conrad Hall creates a natural atmosphere for the film to play out. 
     This is a very natural looking transfer that suits the material well. The pressing is very clean and the images sharp save for a few scenes where detail is slightly smudged. There is no sign of edge enhancement and the colors are natural and rich, realizing the warm palette of cinematographer . The Dolby Digital 5:1 sound is rich and full, capturing the action of the park sequences with excellent surround ambiance.




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