Wednesday, September 21, 2016

[Review] The Dark Horse

"Stability. Stability. Stability."

Thankfully, this multi-award winning New Zealand film has finally seen its US release. Directed by James Napier Robertson, The Dark Horse tells the real-life story of a truly unique character named Genesis "Gen" Potini, who's portrayed terrifically by Kiwi actor Cliff Curtis.

Genesis (Cliff Curtis) is fumbling homeless man. His backstory is mostly kept a mystery early on, but we do learn that he's a legendary chess player (nicknamed the titular The Dark Horse). Amidst his struggles, he finds purpose in teaching a local chess club for troubled kids, in hopes to take them to the championships games. All the while, he attempts to steer his nephew (played by James Rolleston, who starred in Taika Waititi's wonderful coming-of-age film Boy) away from a local gang.

Shot very matter-of-factly with handheld camerawork, The Dark Horse carries a deep sense of clout and realism. Storywise, it feels like a gritty and heavier (and R-rated) version of a Disney underdog flick like the recent McFarland, USA or Million Dollar Arm. And that's not a bad thing. Layered with pathos, the tone successfully navigates between lines of feel-good and tragedy. The narrative deftly deals with some tough and affecting scenes of violence and bouts with mental illness, while also displaying glimmers of hope and determination for all the characters involved.

We're rooting for Gen in every single way, and it definitely helps that Cliff Curtis gives such an excellent tour de force performance. It's nuanced, emotional, and believable. He certainly earns the accolades. He also drops some of the best chess-applying-to-life monologues since "The Wire".

Much like Genesis Potini, this diamond in the rough of a film deserves a chance.

( 8/10 )

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