In the recent past, there was another engaging movie made on a chess prodigy, starting Tobey Maguire and Peter Sarsgaard, directed by Ed Zwick, called Pawn Sacrifice. It was amazing, as much a character study, as it was about chess, & absolutely engaging from beginning to end. It was also purportedly based on a true story.
It had flawed characters in the middle of it all, and the subject matter, in spite of the mainstream audience friendly rating, was dark, and bleak, at best.
Here's it's anti-thesis then, having more in common than the recent biopics Pele and Race (the 1 with Jesse Owens), in a very good way.
I've usually felt myself grow, & stay, a little distant from most of the characters in most of director Mira Nair's works, but I'm glad to say that this is perhaps 1 of her best works in a long, long time. It's not just the main protagonist that we end up rooting for, most of the time, but also her friends, fellow 'pioneers', family & teachers.
The characters played by David 'Selma' Oyelowo, & by Lupita '12 Years a slave' Nyong'O are as strong, and Coe to the central plot, as the main protagonist's. I did not expect that, and it reminded me of how the role played by Jason Sudeikis, & Jeremy Irons in 'Race'. A very pleasant & feel-good,contextual memory to harken back to, imho.
A classic, inspiring, rags-fortune saga, with 1 of the best parts of the movie being the relentless focus kept on the squalid living conditions continually inhabited by the main characters, the setting & the surroundings seeping into audiences' skin.
+, not painting the main protagonists as all good, highlighting their flaws in the open. All the time.
Another great strength this movie has going for it is the amount of time spent in building up the tale, without hurrying anything, allowing us to get to know the milieu & the characters intimately in a leisurely, realistic manner, and that makes everything that comes after all the more impactful. The run-time is a pleasure in this case, since all I wanted to do was to spend more time with our main characters.
Also, nobility is dealt with in a matter-of-fact manner, and u give that refreshing as well.
The score, location work, set design, editing and cinematography all complement the narrative ably, as do all the performances. Some of the chess games themselves are well fleshed out, & allow us to get into both the spirit & the nuances of the great game.
Another great thing about those is how the makers have found ample opportunities to inject real-time, contextual humor, without ever losing focus on the main tale being told, which involves delving into quite a bit of darkness. Which is all-pervasive, like life usually is, for ppl born into, & kept in squalor, the way our key protagonists are, for most of the running time.
Have 1 complaint though. Not being able to get a handle on the political climate of the place, though we all know that the main reason for all the squalor housing the under-privileged. But perhaps the makers wanted us all to focus only on the main theme of the flick. And forget all else, though important.
Not to be missed, & worth repeat viewings.