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Movie Review: “The Coldest Game”

There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.

The Coldest Game

Netflix Release: 2/8/2020

Netflix Release: 2/8/2020

Synopsis

Joshua Mansky (Bill Pullman) was once a great chess player. His genius was unmatched, but that was all 17 years ago. Now he is a mathematics professor by day, and is a drunk at night. He needs to drink in order to think straight, and it is a never-ending chase that has led him to where he is today.

With the Cold War at its peak, tensions are high as the Soviet Union seems to be moving nuclear weapons into Cuba—within range of the United States. As a result, the United States hatches a plan to get intel regarding the weapons. There is an upcoming, high-profile chess match between the United States and the Soviet Union, with each country choosing a chess player to represent them. The hotel hosting the chess match is in Warsaw, Poland, and it will certainly be swarming with Soviet spies. The United States will need to recruit Joshua Mansky, a highly skilled chess player, to play on behalf of the United States. Once in the hotel, they will need him to obtain valuable intelligence regarding the location of the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons. However, it seems like there may be a mole within the operation—one that could compromise Joshua Mansky and any information he may obtain.

Official Trailer

The Pros & Cons

All movies start with an average score of 75pts, points are then added or subtracted based on each Pro and Con. Each Pro or Con is designated points, ranging from 0-10, to convey how significant these Pros or Cons are.

The ProsThe Cons

Bill Pullman (+6pts)

The Mole (-4pts)

Joshua Mansky & The Suspense (+8pts)

Chess & Relevance (-3pts)

The Director (+4pts)

The Pace & The Ending (-4pts)

movie-review-the-coldest-game

Pro: Bill Pullman (+6pts)

Maybe Bill Pullman was perfect for this role, maybe the filmmakers wrote this role specifically with him in mind, or maybe he made this character him. Regardless, this character was exactly what you would expect from this actor. He had his genius, but he was also incredibly flawed, which was evident by his relationship with alcohol. The character was interesting on paper, and I will get into that in more detail later in this review, but Bill Pullman delivered.

This could have been a boring movie, if I am being totally honest, but the actor made his character intriguing enough to keep me invested. It was a movie about chess, and it was a movie about the political tension between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. These things could have made for a boring movie, but Bill Pullman portrayed the character in a fascinatingly flawed way, which made me curious to see how his character's story would end. Again, I liked the character, but the movie needed an actor that could make this character interesting, and I think Bill Pullman did just that.

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Con: The Mole (-4pts)

This was a storyline that I could have done without. Look, I am all for adding moles into spy stories in order to make the plot more complex, suspenseful, mysterious, and unpredictable. However, if you add a mole into your story, and that mole is obviously the mole from the very beginning, then it defeats the whole purpose. In this movie, the filmmakers introduced the idea that there was a mole in the operation. Unfortunately, I knew who it was right away, and that storyline did not even have a payoff. Adding a mole to your story can help add suspense and mystery, but in this movie, the storyline was extremely predictable and had no impact on the story as a whole. It was just a missed opportunity.

movie-review-the-coldest-game

Pro: Joshua Mansky & The Suspense (+8pts)

As I said before, I liked the character of Joshua Mansky. He was a genius chess player, but his genius went beyond that. He was a brilliant mathematician, and his brilliance translated well into games like chess and cards. However, this brilliance came at a cost. Normally, his brain was basically hyper active, meaning that he was able to think quickly and think many moves ahead. Unfortunately, this was very overwhelming. In order to feel "normal", he had to drink alcohol (enough to make a normal person drunk).

This gave the character an alcohol problem, which added plenty of suspense to this story. This character was dependent on alcohol in a match in which the stakes were incredibly high, and the tensions were even higher. This made it feel like the character could break down at any moment, and the consequence of such a break down would be nuclear war. Also due to the stakes, there were some at the match that were trying to sabotage Joshua Mansky. Long story short, this was a compelling, unstable character in the middle of a very suspenseful, high-stakes game, and it was a combination that I thought worked really well for this movie.

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Con: Chess & Relevance (-3pts)

I was intrigued by how the story would tie this chess match to the Cold War. Unfortunately, for a story that centered around the main character being great at chess, the filmmakers gave chess a surprisingly little amount of focus. On top of that, the filmmakers had a tough time making the chess feel relevant and important. Instead, it was important that the United States agents attended the match, due to its location, but the chess did not matter beyond that.

Joshua Mansky just had to play, and not lose quickly. Honestly, I get it. Chess is not necessarily exciting, but the filmmakers had the opportunity here to make a truly suspenseful and exciting chess movie. They even made the trailer around that idea. However, they failed in bringing that idea to the screen, as they were unable to effectively tie the chess to the other things that were happening in this story.

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Pro: The Director (+4pts)

At first, this character annoyed me, because he was very conveniently helping the main character. Basically, had this character not been in the movie, the protagonists would not have gotten very far. This character very conveniently (for the writers) helped Joshua Mansky, and it made the character feel like a lazy plot device. Fortunately, the character ended up winning me over.

The actor had the charisma and charm to make this character really likable. Then the character elaborated on his past, and I definitely sympathized with the guy. His story gave credibility to his character's desire to help Joshua, and the actor's performance made it easy to like the character. He was a minor character, but he was the next best character in this movie (after Joshua Mansky).

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Con: The Pace & The Ending (-4pts)

There were a few lulls in this movie that had me checking my phone for the time. For the most part, this movie was suspenseful, and Bill Pullman's performance kept me invested, but there were a few sections in the movie that were just boring. It felt like nothing happened during these periods. Perhaps this was due to the fact that I did not care about a lot of the characters involved, or perhaps this was due to the writers having to stretch this story out into a full-length movie. Either way, the movie had its lulls, even though they were not too long and the movie was always able to pull me back in.

Then there was the ending. I am not going to spoil anything here, but the ending felt somewhat anti-climactic. The movie was suspenseful and felt like it was building toward something. Then the ending came and everything just sort of fizzled out. This was true for both the chess match, and the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. The suspense was effective at keeping me watching, but the ending was somewhat of a disappointment.

Grading Scale

GradeCategoryPoints

A+

Amazing

95-100

A-

Great

90-94

B+

Good

85-89

B-

Decent

80-84

C+

Average

75-79

C-

Watchable

70-74

D+

Bad

65-69

D-

Terrible

60-64

F

Garbage

45-59

movie-review-the-coldest-game

Grade: B- (82pts)

This looked like an interesting, suspenseful movie, and while it had its lulls, it mostly ended up living up to my expectations. Bill Pullman played a flawed genius in the effective way that you would expect him to. He made his character a lot more fascinating than he would have been with a lesser actor in the role, and it was this character that carried my attention throughout the movie. Joshua Mansky was an interesting character, and his flaw was one that provided a lot of suspense. At any moment, Joshua Manksy could have broken down, and everything would have fallen apart. This added plenty of suspense to this story, but it was already a suspenseful story—you know, being centered around the Cold War, an incredibly tense time in global history.

Again though, the movie had its lulls. There were a few sections in the movie that were kind of boring and had me checking the time to see how much longer the movie would be. Then there was the incredibly predictable mole story-line, which left me wondering why the filmmakers felt the need to throw this into the movie, if the writers were just going to be lazy with it. Despite these issues, I thought this was a decent movie. The filmmakers seemed to struggle to make the chess feel relevant to everything else that was happening, and the ending was somewhat anti-climactic, but it was a suspenseful story that I had a decent time watching.