The Dark Horse

"Very Good"

The Dark Horse Review


A relentlessly downbeat tone makes this Kiwi drama sometimes hard to watch, but the true story is genuinely involving, with an inspirational kick that never feels pushy. It also offers terrific actor Cliff Curtis the chance to revisit the rough side of New Zealand society that he so memorably depicted 20 years ago in the award-winning Once Were Warriors.

The story takes place in Gisborne, a city on the east coast of the North Island. After being held on a mental ward, Genesis (Curtis) is released into the care of his brother Ariki (Wayne Hapi), a single-dad who is also a veteran member of the Vagrants biker gang. His son Mana (James Rolleston) is about to turn 15, and Ariki insists that he enters the gang's initiation process, overseen by the brutal Mutt (Barry Te Hira), but Mana sees in Genesis a possible escape, following him to a youth chess club run by his old pal Noble (Kirk Torrance) and his wife Sandy (Miriama McDowell). It turns out that as a young man, Genesis was a surprise chess champion, and now he finds a sense of purpose encouraging these young people to play the game. But Ariki is furious about this, and throws Genesis out into the streets.

Curtis brings layers of intelligence and tenacity to Genesis, revealing him as a troubled man determined to maintain his mental health by finding something positive to focus on. He may now be sleeping rough in the park, but he refuses to give up. And his growing connection with Mana provides a further glimmer of hope for both of them. Opposite him, Rolleston is superb as a young man straining against the bleak future his father has mapped out for him. So while everything in their lives feels sometimes oppressively grim, their relationship gives the film an underlying sense of promise.

That said, writer-director Robertson seriously lays on the gloom, from the beaten-down characters to the threatening skies above them. For these people, a two-day trip to Auckland for a chess championship they can't hope to win feels like the holiday of a lifetime. And while Curtis, Rolleston and Hapi have meaty roles to work with, the other people feel somewhat undefined (Niwa Whatuira's key member of the chess team is the most glaringly under-developed). But the film is still well worth a look as a story of one man who made a small but important difference in the lives of disaffected young people through something as seemingly random as chess. So the film can't help but inspire viewers to look for places they can have even a minor impact on someone in need of encouragement.



The Dark Horse

Facts and Figures

Genre: Dramas

Run time: 124 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 17th July 2014

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Fresh: 12

IMDB: 8.6 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: James Napier Robertson

Producer: Tom Hern

Starring: as Genesis, James Rolleston as Mana, Kirk Torrance as Noble, Sia Trokenheim as Nurse, Andrew Grainger as Clive, Xavier Horan as Jedi, Roseanne Liang as Nurse, Miriama McDowell as Sandy

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