Critical Thinking should have made a triumphant debut at the South by Southwest film festival earlier this year, but the coronavirus pandemic ruined all that. The movie tells the true story of a group of Latinx and Black teens living in the toughest under-served ghetto in Miami who strive towards becoming national chess champions. But as the first Critical Thinking trailer shows, this movie directed by and starring John Leguizamo is much more than an average underdog sports drama.
Critical Thinking Trailer
Led by John Leguizamo as their inspiring teacher, these kids have an opportunity to make something of themselves instead of falling victim to the world of crime and drugs around them. It’s a story that could have easily been a little hokey, but Leguizamo grounds it firmly in the harsh realities of a struggling Miami neighborhood, and it makes the proceedings feel that much more genuine and harrowing.
Corwin Tuggles, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Angel Bismark Curiel, Will Hochman, and Jeffry Batista all give breakthrough performances as the chess team at the center of this story, not to mention Leguizamo doing some fine work himself. If this movie had a chance to play on the big screen at film festivals, I feel like it would have made some big waves, especially in our current social climate.
Even though Critical Thinking didn’t play SXSW, I still got a chance to check it out, and I wrote in my review:
“Critical Thinking could easily be described as Dangerous Minds meets Searching for Bobby Fischer, but it brings so much more to the table. John Leguizamo also directs this movie, and he’s not shy about being blunt when it comes to these issues facing inner-city kids. That might be because he spent his formative years in areas like this, with kids like this, in New York City. But it’s also because the script from Dito Montiel (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints) doesn’t bring heavy sentimentality to these proceedings.”
There’s something special in this movie, and since it’s only getting a debut on virtual cinema, VOD and digital, I hope it manages to find an audience. It’s inspiring and powerful, and it lets the underrated John Leguizamo show his passion, both as a storyteller and an actor. I cannot implore you enough to seek this one out when it arrives on September 4, 2020.
Here’s the official synopsis from when the film was meant to debut at SXSW earlier this year:
It’s 1998 in Miami. Rampant poverty, broken families, and a prejudiced system push underprivileged youth to the fringes of society. But for a magnetic group of teens, there’s a reprieve. A game where it’s not about where you come from, but how you play. That equalizer is chess. Mr. “T” Martinez (John Leguizamo), a chess militant and passionate coach, leads them to a completely foreign field of battle: the National Chess Championship. With an underfunded school district, Martinez and his team can’t just waltz into the arena. They have to fight for it. Chess runs parallel to their own experiences as Martinez teaches them that the power of Critical Thinking can not only save their kings, but also their lives.
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