Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1993. Screenplay by Steven Zaillian, based on the book by Fred Waitzkin. Cinematography by Conrad L. Hall. Produced by William Horberg, Scott Rudin. Music by James Horner. Production Design by David Gropman. Costume Design by Julie Weiss. Film Editing by Wayne Wahrman. Academy Awards 1993.
Young Josh Waitzin (Max Pomeranc) feels only passably amused by the activities and sports he enjoys with his friends, until one day in the park with his mother he discovers something captivating: chess. When his parents Fred and Bonnie (Joe Mantegna and Joan Allen) realize he’s something of a prodigy, they immediately get him lessons with world-renowned teacher Bruce Pandolfini (Ben Kingsley), who was once the teacher of the notoriously famous chess champion Bobby Fischer. Josh excels under his leadership and wins many tournament trophies, but eventually the pressures of trying to be good enough for his driven father get to be too much and he starts to wander off his game. This inspires Mantegna to slow down and wonder just what he hopes to get out of pushing his child so hard. Based on Fred Waitzkin’s nonfiction book, this beautifully photographed, richly enjoyable film benefits from top-notch direction and writing by newcomer Steven Zaillian, who casts every part with notable genius. Allen is fantastic as the mother who won’t let her son’s goodness be degraded by the focus on a competitive spirit that surrounds him, and Laurence Fishburne is terrific as a Washington Square junkie who plays speed chess for cash. Also look for early appearances by Laura Linney as Josh’s teacher, and William H. Macy as another tournament competitor’s father.