The story of Bobby Fischer is the story of an American tragedy. In his mid teens Fischer was the US Chess Champion, the youngest grandmaster in the history of the game and on his way to take on the title of World Champion. Riding this wave of success into his 20s, it became apparent Bobby Fischer had never had a childhood and with the burden of a nation's honor on his shoulders, the eccentric ways of a genius kicked off a strange simultaneous occurrence of professional success and personal downfall, that would culminate 30-odd years later in Iceland, with the uneventful death of a very disturbed, sad man who had managed to transform himself from America's hero to villain and in the eyes of some more than that, a traitor.
"Bobby Fischer Against the World" is a fascinating, albeit pedestrian look at Fischer's life, rounding up the few close to the man to tell their experiences and try to make some sense of what happened between the time following Fischer's disappearance following his first and only World title, his strange reappearance and branding as political criminal and sad final years as a man, at one time without a country. The underlying and obvious theme of the feature is chess and while the solitary focus on Fischer's experiences with chess is off-putting, it's clear by the journey into his teenage years that the game was all Fischer really had. Where the portrait of the genius succeeds is relating how big Fischer was and before the film ends, having you, the viewer fully understand the effect he had on the game and modern society's view towards it; in the most simple terms, Bobby Fischer was chess' first and only rock star and was very capable of talking the talk and walking the walk.
The greatest majority of the feature's 93-minutes focuses on the 1972 World Chess Championship between the almost 30-year old Fischer and reining champion, Boris Spassky. The contest which has gone on to be called "The Match of the Century" is equally gripping and heartbreaking as Fischer's pre and mid-match shenanigans, at least in hindsight, were signs that the young prodigy was suffering from severe psychological problems. Yet, with Fischer representing the whole of the US against the Cold War rival's poster boy, Spassky, the spin was psychological warfare by a master tactician. The interviewees who were there firsthand are as blunt as the presentation itself and in doing so, a sympathetic portrait of Fischer is established, that's key to making sense of his extreme actions later in life.
Like the man himself, the closing moments of "Bobby Fischer Against the World" will be a polarizing factor as there is little true insight into the man's final days aside from facts, which are without a doubt, unsettling. The tragic hero profiled ends his story a bitter, anti-Semitic, paranoid old man, managing to get under the skin of US government officials with pro-9/11 comments. Ultimately, the clinically objective look at Fischer seems to contradict itself, resulting in a shaky resolution. There are a lot of unanswered questions regarding the life of Bobby Fischer and while even those close to him can't answer them, some probably should have never been brought up in the first place.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is largely made up of archival footage, but present-day interviewee segments. The modern segments are on par with most television documentary programs; colors are intense but natural and detail is at best above average. The archival footage is definitely striking and although some is quite washed out, none of it is an eyesore.
The Dolby Digital English 2.0 audio track is let-down, with the film's licensed, period soundtrack overpowering narration in some segments, making for an imbalanced track as a whole, requiring you to fiddle with the volume should you want to clearly hear the interview subjects.
Two brief featurettes are included, one of which is a disposable primer for chess newbies titled "A History of Chess." The other, "The Fight for Fischer's Estate" is a fascinating "epilogue" of sorts, answering a few questions the main feature neglected and reinforcing the true mystery that was Bobby Fischer.
Imperfect as a whole, "Bobby Fischer Against the World" is easily the most just overview of the chess master's strange and troubled life one could expect. It serves a dual purpose, the second being a nearly perfect "in the moment" look at a period in American history that most only know in abstracts from history books: the Cold War. Chess proves to be an apt metaphor for East vs. West as well as Fischer's life, which is more eloquently summarized by an interviewee; in a nutshell, the qualities that made Fischer a genius on the chessboard, broke him on the board of life. Recommended.