Review: ‘Magnus’ checks out the pressures and loneliness of a chess grandmaster

The loneliness of the long-distance chess grandmaster is affectingly conveyed in “Magnus,” an intimate portrait of the game’s reigning champ, 25-year-old Magnus Carlsen.

Starting with his formative years in his native Norway, where as a youngster Magnus could often be found sitting by himself away from other kids, contemplating numbers and patterns, the documentary follows the introverted phenom on what would appear to be a preordained path.

It’s one that would see him face off against chess great Garry Kasparov in 2004 and lead to the film’s centerpiece — his eventual defeat of then-world champion Viswanathan “Vishy” Anand in a hard-fought 2013 battle that pitted Carlsen’s intuitive approach against Anand’s preference for developing computer programs that could pinpoint opponents’ weaknesses in advance.


While he’s been dubbed “The Mozart of chess,” the cherubic-faced Carlsen might just as easily be taken for a member of a boy band, especially given the number of magazine covers he’s graced ever since becoming grandmaster at the tender age of 13.

Although his rabid fan base might attest to the ancient game’s resurgent coolness factor, director Benjamin Ree poignantly moves beyond the inherent triumphs and disappointments to capture the endless cycle of intense pressure and subsequent isolation that’s an inescapable part of the international circuit.

Witnessing those matches between Carlsen and Anand as a phalanx of photographers are pressed up against a glass wall mere inches away from the players, it becomes clear that disappearing into one’s own world can have its distinct advantages.



Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 18 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; also on VOD

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