There has been a spate of chess documentaries and dramas of varying quality of late (Bobby Fischer and Queen of Katwe among them) but latest entry Magnus makes it to top tier. In following Magnus Carlsen, the "Mozart of chess", from boyhood to world champion, director Benjamin Ree might not get under the fingernails of Carlsen's style, nor indeed does it delve deep into his character, but still oddly manages to create a compelling documentary.
agnus is largely seen through the eyes of his father, Henrik, who admits that Magnus wasn't like other boys. He noticed early on that his son wasn't developing as other children do: games, like Lego, had to be analysed and studied before embarked on. A quiet and unsociable kid, it was his "brute discipline" that got him where he is, playing the legendary Garry Kasparov when eight years old (the game ended in a draw). Any insight into Magnus' personality comes from dad, as the man himself is reluctant to talk about anything else other than chess; Ree's interviews with Magnus here were probably frustrating affairs.


isibly uncomfortable as he shifts in his seat, dragging his hands down his face – what's going on in the mind of this emotive Magnus, who remains stoic (perhaps even sullen), throughout, isn't really explored. Bar the moment where he breaks down as a kid during a home video when talks about how he suffers at the hands of bullies in school, there's little insight into what makes him tick other than the determination to be the best. There's little exploration too of his instinctive approach to chess, and how his style is the anathema of Viswanathan Anand's deliberate and mathematical style. It's the run up to this match, the 2013 World Championship, that provides the backbone of the narrative.
et Magnus remains enthralling viewing. That could be down to the nerve-racking World Championship Final (kudos to Umo Helmersson's tense soundtrack), and generally watching a genius be a genius. One scene has an eight-year-old Magnus play an older player… without using a board or pieces: they just tell each other the moves. Another awe-inspiring scenario is when he goes to Harvard to play ten top players simultaneously… blindfolded ("Board five, rook to queen bishop four; Board eight, knight to…" and so on). Instead of an autograph, Magnus instead writes down his and the autograph seekers game play-by-play. Frankly, the man is unbelievable.
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