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Searching for Bobby Fischer.

Chasing, searching for and discovering secrets

"Searching for Bobby Fischer" (Paramount) manages to make even those who have never played the game care deeply about the outcome of a chess match. When 7-year-old Josh Waitzkin is up against his smug young opponent in the national championship, it seems like a life-and-death encounter.

"Searching for Bobby Fischer" (Fischer is the former world champion who disappeared from public life after his victory; documentary footage of him is threaded through the film) is about something more important than chess. Based on a true story, and with Max Pomeranc, himself a young chess star, as the central character, it shows the strains Josh's extraordinary talent places on his father, mother and himself.

In one of the most entertaining scenes, Josh plays against his father, Fred (Joe Mantegna), an initially mild-mannered sportswriter. Josh makes his moves quickly, runs upstairs to carry on a phone conversation, and runs down again before his father has figured out what to do next. When Fred realizes his son is already better at chess than most people will be at anything, he becomes overly intent on making him a champion. Josh begins to suspect that winning at chess, which he had enjoyed as one game among others, has become a condition for retaining his father's love.

First-time director Steven Zailian (who also wrote the screenplay) uses close-ups to capture the drama of chess moves. He is especially successful with scenes at Josh's eyes level, letting us see only what the boy can see and getting some sense of his concentration. There is an especially effective moment after Josh loses a match. Fred stands unheedingly in the rain, blurting out his frustration, until his son asks, "Why are you standing so far away from me?"

Although it fudges the questions it raises, the movie is worth seeing for both parents and children. Josh is forced to recognize "I'm not Bobby Fisher," ultimately demonstrating that he doesn't want to be. We are reassured with a postscript that the real Josh Waitzkin is still competing in under-18 chess tournaments, while pursuing a range of other interests.

Joseph Cunneen is coeditor of Cross Currents.
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Author:Cunneen, Joseph
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Movie Review
Date:Sep 3, 1993
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