Review: Magnus (2016)

Magnus (2016)

Directed by: Benjamin Ree | 75 minutes | documentary | Starring: Magnus Carlsen, Garry Kasparov, Viswanathan Anand

Chess is not a sport for the masses, but the documentary ‘Magnus’ is interesting even without knowledge of castling. The film manages to portray chess as a given that is as elusive as the main character.

Norwegian Magnus Carlsen (1990) is known as the Mozart of chess, partly because his genius came to light at a young age. That is also where the documentary starts. Through home videos of the Carlsen family, the viewer becomes acquainted with the child prodigy, who seems to regularly lose himself in his own thoughts at a young age. As it turns out, his father soon realizes that Magnus is different and they find an outlet in chess. Then Magnus’ career moves quickly. At the age of thirteen he becomes a grandmaster and that same year he manages to keep the then world champion Kasparov in a draw. Greatness is the destiny of the Norwegian and that is the storyline of ‘Magnus’. The climax of the film is, as can be expected from a little sports film, the title battle for the world championship.

The way the story is told in this documentary is hardly surprising, but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating. Because you get to know Magnus at a young age, you grow with it as a viewer. The sympathy for the main character is cleverly constructed because Magnus is not that accessible. He is an introvert who can be almost literally mentally absent. He also talks about demons and always seems to be on the verge of collapse. On the other hand, he turns out to be a real family man who has kept his feet on the ground.

The director of ‘Magnus’ is the unknown Benjamin Ree who mainly has a background in the television world. This can also be seen in his first documentary film. The film is easy to consume at 75 minutes, but it lacks depth (as a result). Magnus remains an elusive boy. So no one understands how he could have become so good. Even Magnus has no idea. He mainly plays on intuition. But that’s it. Nowhere is more explanation given. Even when Magnus speaks about his demons during an interview, you as a viewer expect some more depth, but it doesn’t go beyond the statement that he has demons. Despite the sympathy you feel, you don’t really get close. That makes ‘Magnus’ feel like a real sports documentary. It mainly revolves around the sporting achievements of the main character and it remains somewhat superficial in the field of the person behind the athlete. However, this doesn’t stop you from sitting captivated for 75 minutes watching an introverted boy on his way to absolute greatness.

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