Magnus review [Tribeca Film Festival]: Benjamin Ree’s involving documentary focusses on the remarkable story of perhaps the world’s greatest modern chess player, Magnus Carlsen.
Magnus is an engrossing, truly inspirational new documentary which receives its world premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Read our Magnus review below.
Magnus focusses on the story of World Champion chess player Magnus Carlsen, an absolute genius who, in his early twenties, managed to achieve, and maintain the highest rating in the chess history. Director Benjamin Ree opens his film with the media circus that surrounds Carlsen at the 2013 World Chess Championship, where the chess player has the opportunity to take the world title if he beats reigning champ, Indian grandmaster Viswanathan Anand over the course of what would be ten intense games. Teasing us with the outcome, Ree immediately takes us to the title card, and then to a static talking head with Carlsen’s father, Henrik Albert Carlsen, our guide for this involving piece of superb documentary filmmaking.
In a break from the norm, most of the film is narrated by Henrik, recounting tales of Carlsen’s youth; how we was a less-involved child who shied away from mixing with other children, was often deep in thought and reluctant to be like the other kids, and playing team sports. At an early age, as Henrik tells us, Magnus found that the game of chess was one where he could channel his frustrations, thoughts and eventual talent into. Using a mix of archival family footage, and cleverly placed inserts, Ree paints an intimate portrait of the young Carlsen, which superbly demonstrates the boy’s aptitude for intellectual challenges at a very early age; starting with 50-piece jigsaw puzzles, LEGO and eventually through to the complex game that he would eventually master.
Ree wastes no time in moving his documentary forward, and we soon find ourselves in 2004, a pivotal time in Carlsen’s young life, a year in which he would meet and play world champion Garry Kasparov, and the intense game features in the middle of the film. From there, we see Carlsen’s game develop, and following a dazzling, jaw-dropping scene featuring a bunch of chess-playing lawyers at Harvard University, we move to the lead up of events of this exceptional film’s opening sequence, the 2013 World Championships, which make up the latter third of the feature’s tight 75-minute running-time.
I knew next to nothing about chess, the international stage on which it is played, or indeed Magnus Carlsen prior to this film. I have no interest in the game whatsoever, but as with all good documentaries, this matters not one ounce as Ree manages to pull the viewer in and engage them throughout the entire film. His fantastically edited, well-paced feature displays the affection and deep passion that Carlsen has for the game, but most importantly for his family, particularly his father, who is ever present at his side.
Magnus isn’t really a film about chess at all, but about confidence, the will to succeed, overcoming obstacles and frustrations, but most of all, family. Magnus, both the film and the person, is remarkable, and truly inspirational.
Chess has never been so engrossing, mesmerising or entertaining. Benjamin Ree’s film is a wonderful account of one of the greatest achievers of the past decade, and is an absolute must.
Magnus review by Paul Heath, April 2016.
Magnus was reviewed at the Tribeca Film Festival, 2016.