Check – mate?

A children’s chess tournament. Two boys facing each other in the final game, intently staring at each other and the chess board between them. They make their moves and register their time. Ultimately, one of them has to concede defeat. Facing “check” twice and almost out of time, he topples his king. And assaults his adversary. A doctor recommends that he not ever be allowed near a chess board while he is treated for his “condition.”

Years later, another chess tournament. Grand master Peter Sanderson (Christopher Lambert) is in attendance, making a surprise return after three years’ retirement. He easily wins the first rounds. After dinner with daughter Erica (whose only parent he is) and a strategy session with his advisor, Sanderson concludes the evening with a few steamy hours with a sensuous blonde … and the psychopath who will soon hold the community in thrall has found his first target. When the woman is found murdered, gruesomely dressed up in death and the word “Remember” written on the wall above her in blood, Sanderson initially denies having been with her. This, and his arrogant demeanor towards the policemen investigating the crime – particularly, Detective Andy Wagner (Daniel Baldwin) – makes him an instant suspect. But is Sanderson the psychopath? Or is he, as appearances would have it, the psychopath’s true target?

Edward Fairburn: L.A. Part II / Westbound,
portrait in ink over a freeway map of Los Angeles (2015)

In a grisly game of strategy in which a city is turned into a chess board and women living in the target areas of town (attractive blondes all of them) are the chess pieces, Sanderson and the police hunt a serial killer who always seems to be one step ahead of them. While Detective Wagner never loses his suspicion of Sanderson, his newly minted boss, Captain Frank Sedman (Tom Skerritt) reluctantly comes to the conclusion that since the clues provided by the killer are based on chess references and directed to none other than Sanderson himself, they will not be able to solve the case without his help. Yet, for a long time the grand master, too, seems unable to decipher the killer’s clues, and the meaning of the words written above the dead body of each of his victims. – How many women will have to die before his identity is revealed? Will he ever be caught? Will psychologist Kathy Sheppard (Diane Lane), brought in by the police to determine if Sanderson himself fits their suspect’s profile, end up as one of his victims?

Knight Moves is a suspenseful thriller, intelligently built on the patterns of the royal game of strategy itself, and in which the audience is kept on their toes until the very end. Christopher Lambert in particular is believable as the astute, arrogant Sanderson, who hides his personal fears and insecurities under a mask of unapproachability which only one person seems to be able to pierce – his daughter Erica. His face-offs with Daniel Baldwin alias Detective Wagner, sarcastic and spewing barely controlled rage at each other, are among the highlights of the movie; in addition, of course, to the mind game itself which the killer plays with his hunters and, by extension, with the audience. While it is clear that the solution has to have something to do with the fateful game played by those two boys so long ago, all elements of the story are only connected up in the final scenes … which are, however, unfortunately somewhat overplayed and emphasize gore more than psychology and hence, are a bit of a let-down. This, and the relationship soon forming between Sanderson and Sheppard, which doesn’t entirely work for me (strangely enough, since Lambert and Lane were married at the time) are the only detractors I find in this movie. Overall, however, Knight Moves would have deserved much more attention than it has received since its 1992 cinematic release.



Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Cinevox / Republic Pictures (1992)
  • Director: Carl Schenkel
  • Executive Producers: Brad Mirman / Christopher Lambert / Guy Collins
  • Producers: Jean-Luc Defait / Ziad El Khoury
  • Screenplay: Brad Mirman
  • Music: Anne Dudley
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Dietrich Lohmann
  • Christopher Lambert: Peter Sanderson
  • Diane Lane: Kathy Sheppard
  • Tom Skerritt: Capt. Frank Sedman
  • Daniel Baldwin: Det. Andy Wagner
  • Katharine Isobel: Erica Sanderson
  • Ferdinand “Ferdy” Mayne: Jeremy Edmonds
  • Alex Diakun: Grandmaster Lutz
  • Charles Bailey-Gates: David Willerman


Knights Templar playing chess, Libro de los juegos, 1283




Battle Chess (the video game that Lambert / Sanderson is seen playing in this movie)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Literature Reviews

Adventures in Arda

Note: This was my summer 2022 project — but while I posted the associated project pages here at the time (Middle-earth and its sub-project pages concerning the people and peoples, timeline, geography, etc. of Arda and Middle-earth, see enumeration under the Boromir meme, below), I never got around to also copying this introductory post from […]

Read More
Literature Reviews

Michael J. Sullivan: Riyria

The Riyria Revelations are the fantasy series that brought Michael J. Sullivan instant recognition back in the late 2000s.  Originally published as a series of six installments, they are now available as a set of three books, with each of the three books comprising two volumes of the original format.  As he did with almost […]

Read More
Literature Reviews

Michael J. Sullivan: Legends of the First Empire

Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria books have been on my TBR for a while, but until I’d read two short stories from the cycle — The Jester and Professional Integrity — I hadn’t been sure whether his writing would be for me.  Then I found out that (much like Tolkien’s Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and The History […]

Read More