The Coldest Game review- a pawn in the side of the espionage genre

By Marc Miller
Published: February 8, 2020 (Last updated: January 26, 2024)
The Coldest Game (Netflix) review- a thorn in the side of the espionage genre


Netflix just can’t help themselves when it comes to a garage sale. Take The Coldest Game, for example, an oddly-disjointed spy-thriller that can’t be saved by barrels of vodka, a fistful of cocaine, or a good Bill Pullman performance that it brings to the chessboard.

It’s a good thing they don’t play chess by candlelight otherwise Bill Pullman spontaneously combusts like a small batch of kindling. I cannot think of many other actors lately who have transitioned into their niche in life by playing down on their luck, dunked in alcohol, older adult curmudgeons. From today’s Netflix release, The Coldest Game, to the career rebirth in USA Network’s The Sinner, and he wasn’t even pegged to play the boozy chess super-star Joshua Mansky; William Hurt was injured while suffering an offset accident a few days before filming. Unfortunately, while the film promises a nice mix of espionage, vodka, a little bit of government-grade cocaine, a spunky redheaded lady who happens to be an American spy, and a game or two of chess, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be a good time had by all. In fact, it left most of the entertainment at the door and drowns in its own lazy self-importance.

The Coldest Game is, follow this, an English-language Polish spy film, starring Pullman as the fictional Mansky, who, of course, is a brilliant mathematician who happens to give the word lush a bad name. He is approached by an agent pretending to be a former student (The Blacklist‘s Lotte Verbeek), and thrown into a van with a hood over his head. There, the leader of the American Secret Service, Donald Novak (Hunter Killer‘s Corey Johnson) and Agent White (Dunkirk‘s James Bloor) and Agent Stone enlists his help by entering him into a chess tournament against Soviet Champion Alexander Gavrylov, not only for national pride but at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, these superpowers are fighting for world domination.

That being said, even as I try my best to summarize it, it’s odd, and everything about The Coldest Game is disjointed. While I have been a fan of Pullman, besides his role as possibly the stupidest man alive in Risky Business, he has always been the straight man, and he is put in out-of-place comic situations that do nothing to move the film’s story along. In fact, most of the scenes through the first two-thirds of the movie are so clumsily put together and involve Pullman’s Mansky falling off and on the wagon again, I was questioning if what we are seeing is real or being imagined, ala The Girl on the Train. By the time Lukasz Kosmicki’s film gets to where it needed to be with a fairly decent plot twist, it settles into predictable cruise control that isn’t a pleasant, leisurely Sunday drive, but like being aimlessly stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

When it comes down to it, the so-called decent twist, by the end, feels insignificant because the film was so convoluted you found yourself begging for something to happen. I love a good spy thriller and while the nature of the espionage genre is to connect the pieces until they fit or don’t the strange combination of its patchy continuity and straightforwardness made for a bland, sit back in your seat experience, instead of the opposite. Even its message by the end of the film before the end credits rolled as they attempt to tie in this fictional film with today’s America versus Russian climate feels forced and is trying to be a more self-aggrandizing statement.

A film in this genre doesn’t necessarily have to connect all the dots, but they at least have to make sense or put more effort into disguising their intentions while revealing later their true meaning. The Coldest Game doesn’t come close to doing either of those entertainingly or interestingly enough to give it a recommendation and is a pawn in the side of the spy genre.

Movie Reviews, Movies, Netflix