Updated: Mar 24
Directed by #LukaszKosmicki
A fascinating spy thriller that oozes with espionage and mystery, The Coldest Game is a fresh take on Cold War politics. Not only does its multilingual merit offer a multi-perspective advantage to the characters in this film, but Polish co-producers Watchout Studio allow for the film style to have many unique qualities about it, whilst still retaining a spy thriller-esque tone. The production quality is incredibly high, highlighting that Netflix is once again is the prime candidate for showcasing relatively unknown, yet exceptional, film and really does have an eye when it comes to sharing stories that are socially and, in this case, politically important.
The story centralises on 22nd October 1962 – an important chess match that takes place in Warsaw between US professor Joshua Mansky (Bill Pullman) and Soviet chess champion Alexander Gavrylov (Evgeniy Sidikhin). Protagonist Mansky is seemingly old and tired, but hastily gets swept up in American/Soviet governmental power-play in the turbulent days surrounding the looming Cuban Missile Crisis. With a blockbuster-like script guiding the way and a high-profile cast, the film makes chess the real metaphor for politics as Mansky is forced to explore the many games that politics has to offer.
Albeit a historical film, there is a modern feel to how The Coldest Game is produced; the camerawork is bold and vivid as Mansky is taken from Brooklyn to Warsaw with a variation of colour and sharp shots. Yet, there is an authenticity to this that makes the audience feel like they are watching a classic thriller film. Cinematographer Pawel Edelman was inspired by camerawork from the horror film genre that looks cold and is focused around jump scares and gruesome close-ups. This dramatic structure is sandwiched in-between chilling use of real video archival and news footage that features coverage of American, Cuban and Russian events. These black and white interludes are cleverly featured, making the film even more textured. Likewise, the score adds to the sombre atmosphere with looming music added to extended scene transitions and the use of echo and overlapping noise to create even more of an ominous tone.
The film evokes a lot of memories from UK history classes of studying the Cold War; from the impact of troubled US/Russian relations, to the power of Communism spreading across Europe and the impact of the Iron Curtain. We are shown scenes that include some post-war ruins of Poland that illustrate the legacy of survival and dealing with the aftermath of conflict whilst fearing another one. The characters in this film showcase anxieties surrounding the potential end of the world, with threat of nuclear disaster. Each individual highlights the human experience as fearful, confusing, passionate and patriotic with a barbarous backdrop of war.
The Coldest Game is riddled with bluff, deception, intrigue and mind games – all components of a successful spy thriller. Whilst it offers audiences this ‘shock and scare’ factor, it also takes time to educate those watching on the contemporary nuclear war fears that face the world today. Mansky’s ability to see the human side of his mathematical genius being used for political warfare acts as a wake-up-call as it demonstrates the global impact of knowledge. Kosmicki has framed this film as a warning in showcasing American, Polish and Soviet perspectives; a rare privilege and one to take notice of.
Kosmicki’s future work as a director is surely a style that will be remembered. If you like films that contain history, political power play and thrilling mystery, then this will be well worth a watch.