That’s right. You read the above correctly. Four stars for entertainment, for a movie about chess. Specifically a film about the “Mozart of chess”, whom some claim was the greatest player of all time, Bobby Fischer. That’s quite impressive, wouldn’t you say, considering the game has been around since the sixth century? He was the American champion at the age of 15. 15!! Fischer had been playing since he was six.
AGAINST THE WORLD is constructed like a sports movie: a huge build-up, training montage, lots at stake, the under-dog, etc.. Like the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, this was a titanic fight. A battle in 1972 with the reigning global champ, Boris Spassky. Like Ivan Drago in ROCKY IV, Spassky was Russian. This was during the Cold War. Fischer was American. The filmmakers know how to build tension, as they gear the talking heads (which include Henry Kissinger!), archive footage, and stills, to talk about this epic confrontation. Quotes like, “lone American fighting the Soviet chess machine” and “representing the free world” are bandied about. The match for the World Title is used to dissect Fischer – with various people offering their thoughts, interpretations and analyses of his behaviour and life. Though it does occasionally zip a little backwards and forwards in time, the presentation is roughly chronological. It is gripping stuff, especially the way the title match unfolds.
For all the whizz bang pace, there is a tragic story at the core of the picture. Fischer is shown to be at first unpredictable and temperamental; but as he gets older a neuroscientist suggests that his genius was tied up with his illness; a mental illness, where Fischer is said to be paranoid. His mother and biological father were Jewish, yet he was anti-Semitic. As someone questions, “How does a Jewish kid become an anti-Semite?” Another says that being paranoid at chess is good when you’re playing, but not in the real world, in particular if you have an unbalanced tendency. The revelations about Fischer are upsetting and disturbing. The film ends with one interviewee summarising the enigma of Fischer as a player by stating, that he penetrated the secrets of chess all by himself in a shabby apartment in Brooklyn.