The Coldest Game is a old-school Cold War thriller that, while being entirely fictional, draws heavy inspiration from the famous 1972 World Chess Championship match between US player Bobby Fischer and the USSR’s Boris Spassky.
Instead of Fisher, Bull Pullman instead plays Joshua Mansky who, in contrast to Fisher’s clean-cut figure, is a slovenly drunken mess, having faded out of the international chess scene years ago and now reduced to counting cards in back-alley taverns.
One night, he is ‘recruited’/kidnapped by US secret agents who want him to not only defeat Russian opponent Alexander Gavrylov, but also help them smuggle out sensitive information that could avert the Cuban Missle Crisis.
Funnily enough, the chess scenes are where ‘Coldest Game’ is at its weakest. I don’t know all that much about chess but even I could see how poorly the matches between Mansky and Gavrylov were portrayed.
Any actual chess afficianados in the audience will probably be tearing their hair out after a few minutes.
Thankfully, the rest of the film is rather solid, with the actors giving strong performances across the board.
I had two favourites out of the whole cast.
First was Aleksey Serebryakov as the Soviet general Krutov, who managed to combine a cold menace with a surprisingly sincerity of belief in his cause that stopped him from becoming just another ‘evil Russkie’ stereotype that often crops up in films like this.
Second is definitely Robert Więckiewicz as Alfred, the Polish director of the Palace of Culture and Science, where the chess teams are staying. Alfred quickly bonds with Mansky and works with him to help win the tournament. In addition to being fun to watch, Więckiewicz is able to pack a lot of emotional drama into a character that could easily have just been played off as comic relief.