Critical Thinking (2020)


Critical Thinking (2020)

Miami - 1998. 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, a chess militant and passionate coach, leads them to a completely foreign field of battle.
IMDb   6.4 /10
Metacritic   65 %
TheMovieDb    6.6 /10
RottenTomatoes  94 %
FilmAffinity   5.8 /10
Director John Leguizamo
Writer Dito Montiel
Release Date2020-09-03
Runtime1h 57min
Content RatingNot Rated (Not Rated)
CompanyCritical thinking, Cinema Veritas, Hialeah Park Studios
LanguageEnglish, Spanish
Mr. Martinezas Mr. Martinez
Principal Kestelas Principal Kestel
Mr. Roundtreeas Mr. Roundtree
Sedrick Roundtreeas Sedrick Roundtree
Oelmy 'Ito' Paniaguaas Oelmy 'Ito' Paniagua
Rodelay Medinaas Rodelay Medina
Jeffry Batista
Jeffry Batista
Marcel Martinezas Marcel Martinez
Will Hochman
Will Hochman
Gil Lunaas Gil Luna
Chanayahas Chanayah
Andreas Andre
Isaac Beverly
Isaac Beverly
Pickleas Pickle
Detective Ransoneas Detective Ransone
Detective Vargasas Detective Vargas
Dre C.
Dre C.
Michael Riveraas Michael Rivera
Sydney Arroyo
Sydney Arroyo
Corneliaas Cornelia
Jitney Driveras Jitney Driver
Kizra Deon
Kizra Deon
Lawandaas Lawanda
Snooty Manas Snooty Man

Critical Thinking (film)

Critical Thinking is a 2020 American biographical drama film based on the true story of the Miami Jackson High School chess team, the first inner-city team to win the U.S. National Chess Championship.

Critical Thinking was directed by John Leguizamo, written by Dito Montiel, and stars Leguizamo alongside Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Angel Bismark Curiel, Will Hochman, Corwin Tuggles, Jeffry Batista, Ramses Jimenez, Rachel Bay Jones and Michael K. Williams. It was released on September 4, 2020 by Vertical Entertainment.


Set in 1998, Critical Thinking tells the true story of a Cuban-American teacher named Mario Martinez (known to his students as Mr. T) and his national championship-winning chess club at Miami Jackson High School.

Sedrick, an African-American student living in a single-parent household, takes up chess as an elective and meets Mr. T along with Ito, a student who works after school to support his education. The class also includes Rodelay, the class clown, and Gil, who is of Spanish descent.

Mr. T deals with opposition from Principal Kestel, who believes that the class is made up of academic misfits and that the chess club brings little to no glory to the school. Kestel threatens to redirect funding from the chess club to the school's football team. To offset the price of the registration for the regional competition, Mr. T. uses his personal savings. At the end of the road trip, Sedrick happily tells his dad about his victory. Sedrick's father tells him to get his life straight and decide on his future rather than waste his time on chess. Ito loses his job and his mother throws him out of her apartment, leading him to quit the chess team. The rest of the team realizes that they need money to register for the state championship. They also need Ito, who previously qualified for the regional. If they can't achieve both, they risk forfeiting.

The boys face interrogation from police officers who believe that their friend Andre murdered another student. Soon after, Ito, dealing with financial troubles, is recruited by a drug kingpin because of his knack with numbers. The boys raise funds for the state championship by washing cars. They also recruit a new member, Marcel, whom Mr. T calls Duchamp. At the last minute, Ito changes his mind and travels with the boys to the tournament. An airline company had promised free tickets via sponsorship for them if they made it to the nationals, which they narrowly qualify for due to Ito's refusal to accept a draw, after which he loses due to a zugzwang. He stays at home to fix his life, with a drug dealer, Andre, threatening to hand him over to the police if he tries to quit.

The boys' progress well and are pitted against Akopyan, the three-time, back-to-back reigning champion. Akopyan plays individually against Marcel, who has the best record on the team. At some point in the game, Akopyan, who is having a difficult time beating Marcel, decides to take a bathroom break and suggests that Marcel should do the same. However, Akopyan mistakenly leaves his clock timer running. In the bathroom, Akopyan tries to talk Marcel into accepting a draw, and Marcel replies that a win is all his team needs to win the tournament. When the game resumes, Akopyan is upset to find his clock running which puts Marcel up in a time advantage. However, Marcel waits about three minutes and a half without a move to level the game time, and the two finalists resume the game on an equal footing. Eventually, Akopyan has to resign as his position is obviously losing. Marcel is crowned as the new champion alongside the boys and Mr. T.

Back home, Ito invites Donny and Andre over under the pretense of talking about business, but Andre suspects something to be off about the meeting. He seizes Ito's Walkman and forbids him from answering the phone, and talks about Sedrick and his girl Chanakya and what he might do to them. Ito gets angry and grabs Andre, bashing his head on a refrigerator until Andre is unconscious, and then leaves the store and walks into the street.

During the end credits, the movie returns to the modern-day versions of Ito and Marcel.


  • John Leguizamo as Mario Martinez aka Mr. T
  • Michael K. Williams as Mr. Roundtree
  • Rachel Bay Jones as Principal Kestel
  • Jorge Lendeborg Jr. as Ito Paniagua
  • Angel Bismark Curiel as Rodelay Medina
  • Will Hochman as Gil Luna
  • Corwin Tuggles as Sedrick Roundtree
  • Jeffry Batista as Marcel Martinez
  • Zora Casebere as Chanayah
  • Ramses Jimenez as Andre Lamar
  • Todd Allen Durkin as Detective Ransone


In November 2015, it was announced that John Leguizamo, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Michael K. Williams, Angel Bismark Curiel, Will Hochman, Jeffrey Battista, Corwin Tuggles and Rachel Bay Jones had joined the cast of the film, with Leguizamo directing from a screenplay written by Dito Montiel.

Principal photography began in November 2018 and was filmed over 20 days, on a budget of US$3 million.


Critical Thinking was scheduled to have its world premiere at South by Southwest in March 2020. However, the festival was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Shortly after, Vertical Entertainment acquired distribution rights to the film. It was released on September 4, 2020.

Critical reception

Critical Thinking holds a 93% approval rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 30 reviews, with a weighted average of 7.1/10. Metacritic report a score of 65 out of 100 based on 9 critic reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".