Directed by: James Napier Robertson
Country: New Zealand
Imagine a blend of “Shine”, “The Chess Players” and “Once Were Warriors”, and you’ll have “The Dark Horse”.
Director James Napier Robertson, based himself on the true story of Genesis Potini, a former speed chess champion of Maori descent who, as a part of his therapy for bipolar disorder, focuses on teaching kids with a high risk of being recruited by the lawless local gangs.
The story takes place in Gisborne, Genesis’ hometown, where the chess club entitled The Eastern Knights hosts a bunch of smart kids showing a huge eagerness to participate in a tough championship in Oakland. The man behind this unthinkable idea was the feverish Genesis who, under the effect of pills and in the midst of his litanies of excitement and awe, faces the suspicious parents, including his own brother whose son, Mana, reveals great skills and interest in the game but is about to be initialized in his father’s gang through a traumatic ritual.
With a predilection for backlit photography, Robertson presents us two distinct sides: a sweet one, carrying noble intentions and positive attitudes; and a dark one, where a tough social reality is toxic enough to be vehemently condemned.
There’s a strong sequence of images that confronts the two opposite realities: while Mana gets visibly disturbed with the violence of the ritual and is forced to cope with it, the other youths give wings to artistic creativity on the streets in order to raise money for the trip.
Cliff Curtis, in his most notable performance to date, was brilliant as Genesis, an exemplary man that despite the illness, never ceased to believe in his dream.
“The Dark Horse” isn't emotionally perfect, yet its positive message stays with us.