The name “Bobby Fischer” is synonymous with high-level chess, even decades after the Brooklyn-born grandmaster won his World Chess Championship match against the reigning champion from the Soviet Union, Boris Spasskey. Staged during the height of the Cold War, the match was seen by both sides as an opportunity to prove intellectual superiority. Pawn Sacrifice dramatizes this iconic battle-of-wits, but also delves into the psychological effects of obsession, dedication, and the heavy burden of worldwide expectation– even on the strongest of minds.
There is a superficial idea championed by some movies that dishonesty sells. Heist films like Hell or High Water or Ocean’s Eleven suggest that a caper can handsomely reward the protagonist, if it’s properly executed. White lies can tell a person, “exactly what they need to hear” as a plot contrivance for furthering a character’s confidence, like Neo in The Matrix. And even films that deride dishonesty often do so by showcasing the extreme fall that accompanies an ill-gotten rise, even though the character doesn’t necessarily need to consider their lies to be a transgression at all; think The Wolf of Wall Street, Catch Me if You Can, or other examples of hubris-infused justice. Rare is the film that showcases the psychological destruction that a lie can wreak on a person’s life. Tim Burton’s Big Eyes is a fascinating exploration of precisely that idea.
It is practically impossible to create a biopic without passing judgment on some axis, but director John Lee Hancock comes pretty close to presenting an unbiased view of McDonald’s “founder” Ray Kroc in The Founder. The film details the story of Kroc discovering the original McDonald’s restaurant, the brainchild of brothers Mac and Dick, and expanding the McDonald’s empire through an aggressive franchise model. As McDonald’s restaurants pop up everywhere, Mac and Dick lose control of the endeavor, and Kroc eventually muscles the two away from the business.
Oliver Stone’s latest iconoclastic biopic, Snowden, is a stunning exploration of personal liberties, journalistic integrity, and demonization of the whistleblower. Stone minces no words and makes his position clear: for revealing the extent to which the US government was spying on its own citizenry at great personal risk, Edward Snowden is a hero. Hence, Stone is primarily occupied with humanizing Snowden, and his casting of Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a step in the right direction. The film also exploits a parallel narrative structure to simultaneously tell the story of his life and the few days when he provided classified information to journalists in a Hong Kong hotel room. The result is a film which brilliantly characterizes Edward Snowden, his changing worldview, and the choices that made him infamous.
Unlike most Hollywood films, the most remarkable aspect of Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs is undoubtedly its style. Narrative, characters, and even the themes of the film all play second fiddle to the distinct styles of Boyle and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. And still, Steve Jobs avoids the “form over substance” trap through splendid performances and a powerful story of family amid the backdrop of Jobs’ unique innovative spirit. The result is a film which we appreciate both for what it has to say, and the means in which it speaks.
Scott Hicks’ Shine is a brilliant film about the damage that can be done by a traumatic experience during childhood – whether a single devastating event or a prolonged poisonous relationship. The film tells the true story of David Helfgott and his struggle to celebrate his love of music despite the stifling instruction of his father Peter Helfgott, a Holocaust survivor intent on preserving the integrity of his family by all means possible. And as the desires of father and son square off, the result alternates between tragic and overwhelmingly uplifting.