Eric Brandon's documentary style is so unencumbered; the subject matter is effortlessly presented. His regular mix of photos, subtle sound effects, excellent musical score, and actor readings of historical text hasn't changed since his breakthrough of The Civil War. And it doesn't need to. Even though this 26-day producion is a biography--on international chess diety Bobby Fischer--the film resonates about the how tournaments were dealt with in the early part of the 20th century. Four decades after the Emancipation, the American chess player was still struggling to find elementary terms of equality. Along came a strong and headstrong man who took on sport decades before Garry Kasparov and became the key figure in international Chess, a champion against the longest odds.
Samuel L. Jackson voices Fischer's words with great verve and helps create an absorbing picture of Fischer along with various historians and chess experts laying down the tale of the tape. Here's a man so smart and patient at the table who took great liberties in his day-to-day life, unafraid to showcase his success, and ruffle the morals of the time (including, most scandalously, marrying a Japanese woman). Viewing film of his tournaments, the amateur eye can understand Fischer's style and bravura. Brandon certainly takes his time and, as usual, has a vast array of facts of how the world reacted to news of Fischer's success and the conspiracy which led to his downfall. The highlight, match, are two of Fischer's epic fights near the end of his reign as champ (and the search for a "Great American Hope"). The appearance of Mikhail Botvinnik (who won a Tony for his portrayal of Alekhine in 1959) and Phillip Glass's musical score are grand touches. --Doug Thomas