It's surprising, involving and ultimately very moving.
Fischer emerged as a 9-year-old chess prodigy. By 15 he was the 1958 US champion, and he soon set his sights on the world champion Russian players. At the height of the Cold War in 1972, both countries had their reputations staked on the showdown between Fisher and Boris Spassky in Reykjavik. After Fischer's paranoid, diva-like behaviour almost derailed the match, he emerged the victor.
And then he disappeared, failing to defend his title. Years later, he emerged for a controversial rematch with Spassky in 1992 Yugoslavia, resulting in his exile from America.
The film frequently refers to but only briefly outlines Fischer's childhood, including his relationship with his iconic communist-friendly mother. Instead, the main focus is on Fischer's mental state as he obsesses about chess, which centres on being paranoid about the opponent's potential moves. But Fischer clearly takes this paranoia into his personal life. He was unable to make a decision or trust any officials, and in later years he isolated himself from everyone, bitter about government conspiracies he saw on all sides.
All of this is covered with a razor-sharp attention to detail, covering each increasingly eerie turn of events from a variety of perspectives as interviewees recount the story and extensive video footage shows us how it happened. Most interesting are the archival interviews with Fischer himself, from age 9 right up to his 2008 death at age 64. All of this is skilfully edited in a style that feels intriguingly seamless, even as it travels through Fischer's ups and downs.
Yes, the film focuses a bit intensely on Fischer's dark side, but it also vividly portrays his genius. And we also see that the people who knew him really cared about him, against all odds. So watching him succumb to his inner demons is genuinely painful: this is the greatest chess player who ever lived reduced to a lonely, angry man. And yet the filmmakers find dignity even here, which is no mean feat.
Run time: 93 mins
In Theaters: Monday 6th June 2011
Distributed by: Music Box Films
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Fresh: 39 Rotten: 6
IMDB: 7.4 / 10
Director: Liz Garbus