While this inspiring documentary about a New York City middle school of chess champions emphasizes the need for and benefits of after-school programs, it’s the five immensely likable kids the film focuses on that make the case. Rochelle, 13, is the queen — the highest-ranking player in the school who aspires to become the first female African-American master. Pobo, 12, is the leader and politician, uniting the team in matches and against budget cuts. Alexis, 12, hopes to use chess to fulfill his immigrant parents’ hopes for a better life for him. Patrick, an 11-year-old newcomer, struggles with ADHD when trying to stay several steps ahead of the game. And the talented young Justus, 11 — who has since become the youngest African-American chess master ever — is already grappling with the heartbreak of a loss.
Brooklyn Castle allows viewers to watch these students struggle not just at their sport, but with life — the life-changing battery of tests that determine whether a student qualifies to attend one of the city’s competitive specialized high schools is just as compelling (and nerve-wracking) as the tense, high-stakes tournaments. This emotionally rousing film is a real crowd-pleaser. Checkmate.