1972, Reykjavik. A media storm descended upon the Icelandic capital, with two world stars about to take part in one of the fiercest sporting battles of the Cold War. Their contest would last months, played out against the clock, with the eyes of the world scrutinising every move. The power of democracy was aiming to crack the dominance of communism, pressure was intense, and conspiracy theories still abound in the results of the contest. In the red corner, the reigning world champion, Boris Spassky. In the blue corner, a 29-year old enigmatic American by the name of Bobby Fischer. Their game: chess.
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Director Liz Garbus’ latest documentary with HBO, Bobby Fischer Against the World, manages to live up its title, released in one cinema on these shores the same day as a certain wizard check mated his long time opponent. But those who take the time to seek out this thrilling study of chess’ most infamous genius will be rewarded with a deeply involved history of Fischer’s calculated skill on the board, as well as his tragic life off of it.
From humble beginnings in the Bronx, this cocksure man rose through the ranks, and Garbus plots this rise with perfectly on point file footage of the 60s and 70s. Everything from the newsreels to disco music feels appropriate to constructing our image of this self-obsessed master. The talking heads, speaking candidly about their affection and waning patience for the man, are interested and absorbing, and help to go deeper than the surface of the retro pastiche build-up. But Garbus comes into her own in the latter half, positioning the audience to understand Fischer’s constant pressure to succeed, pushing him further into his own reclusive introspection. Though hard to like in his arrogant glory days, and especially, his later anti-Semitic rants and conspiracy-laden psychosis, Fischer’s final demise, living alone in Iceland, unable to return to the United States, makes for compelling and tragic viewing.
“It’s just you and your opponent at the board and you’re trying to prove something”, Fischer once said. It’s all the more apt knowing he was his own worst enemy.
Limited Release: July 15th
Runtime: 93 mins