The hardest type of guy for an actor to play is one without charisma. That's the challenge faced by Tobey Maguire in Edward Zwick's Pawn Sacrifice, which tells the story of Cold War–era chess champ and totally strange human being Bobby Fischer. He's good at it -- maybe too good. In the opening scene, racked by paranoia in the moments before he's set to face Boris Spassky in game two of the 1972 World Chess Championship in Reykjavík, Fischer tears apart his hotel room, searching for surveillance equipment. His eyes are as wild as the knit-in zigs and zags of his Seventies-style patterned sweater. Maguire makes us believe in Fischer's tortured soul -- the problem is that with his quivering lips and jittery brain waves, he can't quite hold the screen. And whenever Liev Schreiber, as Spassky, comes strolling into the frame, all hope is lost. Maguire may be the lead, but Schreiber takes his queen every time.
Even so, Pawn Sacrifice clicks along with crisp efficiency. Zwick, the director behind movies like Glory and Blood Diamond, is old-school in his attention to craftsmanship, alive to telling details. Best is the finale, in which Fischer, almost miraculously, puts his neuroses to work in a set of moves that wins him the championship, seemingly against all odds. Zwick finds smart ways to locate the dynamism in a very subtle game. Pawn Sacrifice turns the clock back to a time when the country, and the world, could see the infinite colors in a game played out in black-and-white. (Stephanie Zacharek)