The world premier of The Dark Horse opened the New Zealand International Film Festival at the majestic Civic in Auckland, and wow what a fantastic opener!
This New Zealand film tackles mental health, poverty, gang violence and chess. Yes chess. Not a combination you’d expect from a hard hitting emotionally charged film.
The story is based on the life of Genesis Potini (Cliff Curtis), a speed chess player and bipolar sufferer. Gen spent his latter years coaching disadvantaged kids chess at The Eastern Knights Chess Club in Gisborne. The film begins with Gen being admitted into a mental health hospital. When he is subsequently released into the care of his brother, he has more than his own health to battle.
His empathy and love for his nephew Mana (James Rolleston), who is suffering at the hands of the gang life he has been born into, is heart wrenching. His relationship with his brother is strained to say the least, and his inner struggle with his own anxiety is an ongoing and constant companion. It is such a joy and inspiration to see this character busy himself with helping others, and sharing his love of chess with the local kids, despite all the personal challenges his faces.
The cast is nothing short of phenomenal, Cliff Curtis as Gen is mesmerising. You literally can’t take your eyes off him. It’s a challenging part with a roller coaster of emotions, and he projects every feeling of sadness, frustration and joy perfectly. Newcomer, Wayne Hapi, plays Gen’s brother Ariki, also manages to communicate this layer of pain and turmoil into his performance. James Rolleston really steps up here to prove he is a mature and very capable actor, another attention grabbing performance. Of course the kids are adorable and supply the audience with cute, and hilarious moments as does Kirk Torrance as Noble.
The Dark Horse was obviously a labour of love for all involved. The tagline to the film is ‘Bravery is Contagious’ and I couldn’t think of a more apt way to describe it.Director James Napier Robertson has been able to create a film that really get’s under your skin and will become a Kiwi classic. You will be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t go see this film, it’s beautiful, emotionally stirring and wonderfully acted.
Reviewed by Ingrid Grenar.