THE DARK HORSE | MOVIE REVIEW

I cannot wait to see this movie, I saw the trailer a couple of weeks ago and was flawed, so powerful so beautifully told and you could just feel that another work of brilliance was coming out of New Zealand. If you loved BOY, if you loved WHALE RIDER – then put this one on the top of your list. Kernel Vanessa headed off to see this one and I will be watching it on Sunday. THE DARK HORSE is released by Transmission Films, it is OUT NOW so look it up, started yesterday. It is rated M and runs for 124mins. Enjoy Kernel Vanessa’s review……all the best……JK.

 

THE DARK HORSE MOVIE POSTER IMAGE
THE DARK HORSE | SALTY POPCORN MOVIE REVIEW | MOVIE POSTER

 

REVIEW BY VANESSA CAPITO

With an overwhelmingly outstanding New Zealand cast; Cliff Curtis (ONCE WERE WARRIORS, WHALE RIDER and BOY), James Rolleston (BOY) and Kirk Torrance (OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE), THE DARK HORSE is indeed a film that’s going to leave it’s mark. An inspiring true story based on the life of a local charismatic New Zealand hero and chess champion, Genesis Potini (Cliff Curtis), THE DARK HORSE is a provocative, emotionally charged drama about a man who, despite his own adversities, searches for the courage to lead, finding purpose and hope in passing his gift to the children of his community. A true eye-opener, THE DARK HORSE is without a doubt, a deeply affecting film.

Based on true events, the film portrays the late Genesis Potini, a former chess prodigy whose story first attracted attention in 2003 via Auckland filmmaker, Jim Marbrook’s documentary of a similar name, DARK HORSE. The documentary itself is what initiated the whole process of the more recent film, beginning when producer, Tom Hern stumbled across the documentary channel surfing on his couch and then reached out to THE DARK HORSE writer and director, James Napier Robertson. Napier’s fascination with dysfunctional and outsider characters is grounds for the dramatic tension within film and enables him to highlight the unsettling truths behind mental illness in such a delicate way.

JNR – “I was drawn to the complexities of Genesis, the polarities and societal misconceptions around him; an outcast who could inspire or intimidate, his mental illness making him a pariah with some… his intelligence, gift with chess and eccentric charisma making him a teacher to others, particularly those who also found themselves on the outskirts of normal society…”

 

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THE DARK HORSE | SALTY POPCORN MOVIE REVIEW | GENESIS (CLIFF CURTIS)

 

Set in Gisborne, a town in north-eastern New Zealand, the audience is first introduced to Genesis (Cliff Curtis) as he is at a crossroads, having spent the last few years of his bipolar life in mental institutions. Genesis is released into the care of his estranged, brother, Ariki, (Wayne Hapi) whose violent lifestyle as part of a nefarious gang called the Vagrants, doesn’t bespeak well for either Genesis, or Ariki’s teenage son, Mana (James Rolleston). The havoc and disruption in-house serves as a purpose for Genesis to escape in order to focus his attention on something positive, and to do so, he hones in his energy on joining a local chess club for displaced Gisborne youth, run by his friend, Noble (Kirk Torrance). On a manic impulse at their first group meeting, Genesis announces that he is going to lead them to the National Chess championship tournament in Auckland in only six weeks’ time. Not surprisingly, there is no shortage of obstructions in his path, including his own mental challenges along with those of his nephew Mana, who is soon to be initiated into the Vagrants by one of its more barbarous members.

 

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THE DARK HORSE | SALTY POPCORN MOVIE REVIEW | GENESIS (CLIFF CURTIS) AND MANA (JAMES ROLLESTON)

 

Although the character of Genesis might appear to be similar to the protagonists in films like SHINE and A BEAUTIFUL MIND, director and writer, Robertson has no intention of romanticising mental illness in the film, or conforming to typical conventions when portraying such a stigmatised theme on screen. Contrary to Hollywood standards of mental illness, THE DARK HORSE is realistic in the outcomes and points out that there isn’t always triumph in these situations. This was considerably aided by the exceptional acting ability of Curtis, who demonstrated a commitment to his character that goes well beyond the physical transformation he took to play the part in that there is a dejection in his eyes that reflects the years of heavily medicated treatments that Genesis would’ve undertook. This total immersion in the personality of a tortured but gifted man, with a cage full of demons in his head and a generous soul is so beautifully executed by Curtis that you completely experience fear and empathy in equal measures, with Curtis divvying out ample amounts of both throughout the whole film. A Maori himself (as was Genesis), Curtis gained around 30kg to play the part of Genesis and stayed in character the whole time whilst on set. Robertson explains that working with Cliff was an intense experience, “he’s a formidable talent, and was up for anything. I wanted him to try working in a way he’d never fully explored before, by staying in character throughout the shoot, by gaining the weight himself rather than using prosthetics or a fat suit. This is challenging stuff at the best of times, not to mention the emotional toll of carrying the mental state of a character like Genesis. But he blew it out of the park and the evidence is on the screen”.

 

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THE DARK HORSE | SALTY POPCORN MOVIE REVIEW | GENESIS (CLIFF CURTIS)

 

Robertson doesn’t rush in telling Genesis’ story, but rather takes the time to indulge and allow us as the audience to absorb the landscapes within the film, even the low rent neighbourhoods and the squalor. The standout cinematography is courtesy of Denson Baker, who bathes the faces of the characters in contrasting shadow and light, occasionally playing with unexpected outbursts of colour against what is seemingly dreary, foreboding backdrop.

The role of Mana, played by the increasingly talented Rolleston, is certainly a definitive character of support in the film and proves his leading turn in BOY wasn’t just his youthful ardour collared, the boy can noticeably act. As can first-timer Wayne Hapi, as the raw character of Ariki.

THE DARK HORSE is a beautiful film, with searing, painfully honest performances from all of the cast, it certainly hits all the feel good notes and tugs at your heartstrings when it’s supposed too. More importantly, it celebrates the life of Potini, as Robertson was able to create a film about the man, rather than just his history.

 

4 and a Half Pops

 

 

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