Magnus tells the story of a young prodigy from Norway, Magnus Karlsen, who set the competitive Chess world ablaze and left a pile of rivals behind him to become the third-youngest world champion ever in 2013. His father drops one of the most important truths early on in this poignant documentary: “The game of Chess is easy to learn but almost impossible to master.” It is a fierce battle of prediction and tactics between two minds working at light speed.
Magnus opens with a duel between two Chess titans: the titular hero and his rival, Anand. They begin playing as a swarm of Paparazzi gawk and flash on the other side of the soundproof glass. Despite stoic, talking head interviews from the tight-lipped Magnus Karlsen and his father, the audience never fully push past that layer of glass to get to the core of who the subject really is. Viewers get a compelling backstory that documents the timid but immensely gifted child as he blossoms into a genius, told through fuzzy home videos. However, whenever director Benjamin Ree comes close to boring through Magnus’s thick exterior to access the crippling loneliness the icon feels or his inability to deal with anything outside of the world of his passion, the camera retreats to the safe zone of repetitive Chess duels.
The beauty of the game takes place in the minds of the players; the dizzying calculations, the impossible foresight and the complex strategies. This cerebral wrestling match evades Ree who presents the contests with epic scores and suspenseful shots of the contenders, attempting to frame the showdown as a boxing duel. Magnus deploys its pawns early on but seems to freeze in the second act and instead of landing a convincing checkmate, presents a one dimensional sketch of an infinitely complex brain.
Magnus is a moving character portrait that explores the pressure and responsibility that comes with being endowed with a beautiful mind. Unfortunately, the film timidly skirts the arc of Karlson’s rise to fame without plunging into the darker, more troubling aspects of his life.
Magnus is released nationwide on 25th November 2016.
Watch the trailer for Magnus here: