Director: Benjamin Ree
MPAA Rating: NR
Run Time: 76 Minutes
Not a chess player myself, I was not sure whether I would like, much less understand, Magnus, a documentary about a chess prodigy who became the youngest grandmaster in the world at age 13; drew a tie with the world’s best chess player and 15-year reigning champ, Garry Kasparopv, also at age 13; and who became the world chess champion at the tender age of 22.
Shot over the span of 10+ years, Benjamin Ree’s Magnus details the intense journey of young Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, following him from childhood to adulthood and providing courtside seats as he wins and loses against some of the world’s best chess players.
You don’t need to know the game of chess at all to see the unconditional love that Magnus’ amiable father has for his son and how proud he and the rest of his family are of Magnus’ amazing achievements; nor do you need to know chess to appreciate what Magnus has done in re-igniting the game for a new generation of children around the world; or to grasp the extraordinary feats of strategy unfolding in front of your eyes.
Chess players will undoubtedly have a higher appreciation for this film than I am able to, but that doesn’t mean a broad audience cannot enjoy this suspenseful doc. I went in absolutely cold, knowing nothing about Magnus or his gift, and I actually think it may have been better that way. Clocking in at just under 80 minutes, the film isn’t too bulky either.
It would be easy to dislike someone who you believe to be a snobby, spoiled smarty-pants, but Magnus comes off as the opposite, making this film all the more endearing. He loves his family and relies on them; he has friends; and even without knowing every thought that passes through his mind, you empathize with his struggles, whether it’s during his matches or dealing with the “industry” and his growing success. In fact, contrary to what many may suspect, he seems to be rather well adjusted for someone who is dubbed the “Mozart of Chess.” (Once you see some of his stunning tricks, you will see why.)
I am a sucker for an underdog story, and Magnus hits all the right beats. It’s a story about an adorable – yet clearly introverted – youngster who is bullied in school and then finds something he’s pretty good at. He dedicates himself to achieving a near-impossible goal; he hits several snags along the way, makes mistakes, and is hard on himself; and then he ends up facing off against a man who many consider to be unstoppable – a human super computer – who Magnus must defeat with creativity, spontaneity, tenacity and a little magic.