Magnus – Film Review by Lisa Jewell
Director: Benjamin Ree
Writers: Linn-Jeanethe Kyed, Benjamin Ree
Stars: Magnus Carlsen, Garry Kasparov, Viswanathan Anand
It seems like a lot of the good documentaries in the last few years have been about chess – such as Bobby Fischer Against the World and the earlier Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine. There’s something about the game of chess that is intriguing as a subject but no doubt it also has a lot to do with the personalities involved. We’re fascinated by their genius but this exceptionality can sometimes lead to a disconnection with daily life (Fischer’s eccentric life is a prime example of this).
Into this world comes Magnus Carlsen, often referred to as the ‘Mozart of Chess’. If you’re not much of a chess fan, you probably have never heard about him. But if you have, you’ll know he’s pretty much taken the chess world by storm since he defeated Indian chess hero Viswanathan Anand in the World Championships in 2013. Magnus was just 22 at the time.
The film follows a chronological path, which works really well as you get to see the young Magnus grow up right in front of your eyes. Early home video footage of him in Norway reveals a sensitive child who loved spending time with his family and found it harder to mix with peers. He started playing chess at five and despite not having a huge interest at the beginning, it began to blossom into something more serious as the years went by.
His father, who accompanied Magnus to many of his matches, reveals that his young son was often lost in thought. It’s a recurring theme throughout the documentary – there are times when he’s sitting on the couch beside his family but his mind is miles away. One chess expert explains in the film that there are infinite possibilities in chess and that it’s impossible for humans to master. But indeed, Magnus’ brain is always working on variables and computations in chess moves.
The fact that Magnus was tipped for success at an early age means that news footage is used in the film, along with TV coverage of his crucial chess matches. The voiceover from the commentators in the matches works really well as a narrative tool.
I wouldn’t say it’s a massively gripping documentary but the fact that I didn’t know the story about Magnus helped to build some tension as he faced off with opponents. It’s an interesting tale of how a gifted young boy developed into a rockstar chess champion who is still at the top of his game.