I saw this movie (for the n-th time) last night with the kids. This movie is as great for the things said as it is for its silences.
It has a great cast but the best of them all is Max Pomeranc in my opinion. I did not know this until recently, but Max was ranked in top 100 chess players in the US for his age group at the time the movie was filmed. The way Max moves and the way he observes the adults in his world transmits just as much, or more than the dialogue. Unbeknownst to me, Jake Gyllenhaal had said this about Max:
“One of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen is Max Pomeranc as the young boy in ‘Searching for Bobby Fischer.’ Something about watching a child and his ability to be honest and his desperation for honesty even in the midst of all the adults surrounding them—which is essentially what that movie is about—and the performance itself is so present and exists on its own even today.”
The plot more or less follows Josh, a chess prodigy that learns to play chess by watching people in Central Park in NY, and then goes on to train with an old chess master (the equivalent of Mr. Miyagi) played by Ben Kingsley who instills in him the discipline needed to perform at the highest level. The twist, is that, that same discipline kills Josh’s passion for chess, and goes in contradiction to the aggresive chess he practices at the park with Vinnie, a black chess player played by Laurence Fishburne. Josh loves playing with Vinnie and Vinnie strikes a nice friendship with Josh, whom he treats like an adult. Josh discovers homelessness through this friendship with Vinnie (we learn that Vinnie probably sleeps at the park). Josh discovers status through the chess points that Pandolfini (Ben Kingsley) diligently gives him for him to achieve grand master status. The end of the movie tells us of his re-encounter with pleasurable perfomance as he faces his nemesis at the National’s final.
At the end, Josh’s father (a great Joe Mantegna) is capable is seeing through his own obsession with his kid’s gifts, and it’s able to bridge differences with his wife about how they should best support Josh. The chess shown is enough to pique your interest, without being overly involved. The last scene position(s) is a great example of what I think makes chess a wonderful game full of surprises.