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

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

The Party Movie Review

The Party Movie Review

Comedies don't get much darker than this pitch-black British movie, written and directed by Sally...

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) Movie Review

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) Movie Review

Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha) is on his way to becoming the new Woody Allen, which...

6 Below Movie Review

6 Below Movie Review

Based on an astonishing true survival story, this film is subtitled "Miracle on the Mountain",...

Mother Movie Review

Mother Movie Review

Darren Aronofsky doesn't make fluffy movies, and has only had one genuine misfire (2014's Noah)....

Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

It's been 35 years since Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi classic, which was set in 2019....

On the Road Movie Review

On the Road Movie Review

Wolf Alice fans are likely to be rather disappointed by this hybrid documentary-drama about the...

Borg/McEnroe Movie Review

Borg/McEnroe Movie Review

Skilfully made by Swedish filmmaker Janus Metz (the award-winning Armadillo), this film is essentially a...

Advertisement
The Glass Castle Movie Review

The Glass Castle Movie Review

There are quite a few terrific moments in this true story, based on the memoir...

Home Again Movie Review

Home Again Movie Review

Reese Witherspoon is so likeable that she can carry even the most hackneyed of romantic...

Brimstone Movie Review

Brimstone Movie Review

An unnerving Western with a sharp female perspective, this film is a series of gruesome...

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Movie Review

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Movie Review

Two years ago, Kingsman: The Secret Service seemed to come out of nowhere, ruffling feathers...

Goodbye Christopher Robin Movie Review

Goodbye Christopher Robin Movie Review

This biopic about Winnie the Pooh author A.A. Milne may look like the usual lushly...

Wind River Movie Review

Wind River Movie Review

After writing the superb Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan moves back into...

The Vault Movie Review

The Vault Movie Review

Filmmakers Dan Bush and Conal Byrne attempt a mash-up of a frantic heist movie with...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.