Roger Ebert called 1993’s Searching for Bobby Fischer “the first intelligent one I can remember seeing about chess.” Benjamin Ree’s documentary on Norwegian chess phenom Magnus Carlsen may be the second.
Magnus echoes that movie, especially as Ree, who began filming this project three years ago, makes good use of old family videos and input from Carlsen’s father. That renders a lovely portrait of parenting, too, a demonstration of how worries over a child’s weaknesses — Magnus couldn’t scale obstacles or play sports as nimbly as his sisters or peers — might give way to the discovery of unique strengths.
Four-year-old Magnus obsessed over his Lego-building and stamp books, and his father came to believe that his young son’s pattern-recognition abilities would be good for chess. They were, and they are. Carlsen first became a Grandmaster at age 13, and, at 26, is the current world champion.
Ree has an appreciation for nerds; his joyful documentary short “Dreaming of the Golden Eagle” revels in the geek-out of three young bird-watching brothers. In Magnus, he also reveals the loneliness that can come with such passions. Carlsen is bullied at school, and in interviews he’s reticent, except when he talks about his family and chess.
Ree makes things easy for people who don’t play chess, deftly pacing Carlsen’s triumphs and failures and milking the suspense as “the Mozart of chess” employs his intuition to win, in an age when many players depend on computers to hone their skills.
Directed by Benjamin Ree
Opens November 18, Village East Cinema