An extraordinary examination of child genius and all that comes with it, this stirring first directorial effort by ace screenwriter Steven Zaillian succeeds by simply letting everything in the movie's compositions speak for itself. Chess would not initially appear to be the most cinematic of events, but Zaillian and masterful cinematographer Conrad L. Hall find an enticing visual means of representing not only the sport, but also the emotions of its richly drawn characters. Every time the film threatens to become yet another routinely uplifting melodrama about child prodigies, it surprises with its effortlessly decent and moving, yet unsentimentalized, assuredness. Max Pomeranc is remarkable as the young protagonist, subtle and genuinely childlike, and Joe Mantegna has perhaps his most accomplished role to date as his protective and loving father. Even the "final showdown" manages to eschew convention, as the film is more interested in how it affects the people involved than in manipulating the viewer. Overall, the film is a glorious achievement, reminiscent of Steven Spielberg's early work in its triumphant exploration of young minds and the promise they hold.
by Jason Clark review