The Dark Horse is based on the life of a little-known hometown hero called Genesis Potini.
A Gisborne chess champ, Potini battled a bipolar disorder all his life. He died in 2011, but leaves behind him a legacy of budding local chess fanatics, and a story begging to be told.
Filmmaker James Napier Robertson (I'm Not Harry Jenson) writes and directs this inspirational story, and he does so without making a single wrong move.
Cliff Curtis (Once Were Warriors / Whale Rider) takes on the lead role of Potini, a performance which defines him, and one which is without question a career best. His embodiment of 'Gen' is infused with a gentle vulnerability, laced as a constant with the erratic emotional instability his illness inflicts upon him.
His love of chess is the one thing which grounds him, his passion for the game inextricably interweaved with his personal sense of self, and his own cultural identity. When he's released from hospital into the care of his entirely uncaring brother Ariki (a stunning feature debut for actor Wayne Hapi), leader of the local gang, it's immediately clear this gang house won't be the best place for him.
Potini's desperation to cling to his newfound freedom sends him to the local chess club, more a place where kids with little purpose and even less family support find some kai and company. On a sudden manic whim, he announces he's going to enter the misfit club into the National Chess Championships, and begins to teach them how to play.
But when Ariki's only son Mana (James Rolleston) fronts up at the club, there will be conflict between the brothers.
Mana is soon to be patched, destined to follow in his father's violent footsteps. The boy finds himself instead drawn to the quiet intensity of his uncle, and his love of chess.
But of course life is no game, and Potini's quest will be a fraught one, as he fights his inner demons, and his own family.
Curtis is offset to perfection by Rolleston. The young star of Taika Waititi's Boy has matured into an assured presence on screen, understated but very compelling, his role as Mana is a total heartbreaker.
When a film has you holding back tears in the opening minutes, it's clear it's going to be special. And those were the only ones I did manage to hold back during this film, perched was I on an emotional knife-edge for its entirety, desperate for only the happiest of endings and never sure I would be granted one.
I do not say this lightly: The Dark Horse is not to be missed. It's beautifully told, bravely executed, and truly inspiring.
The Dark Horse
:: Director: James Napier Robertson
:: Starring: Cliff Curtis, James Rolleston, Kirk Torrance, Miriama McDowell
:: Running Time: 124 mins
:: Release Date: July 31, 2014, following its premiere at the 2014 New Zealand International Film Festival
source: newshub archive