|James Rolleston (left) and Cliff Curtis (right) in The Dark HorseCourtesy of Broad Green Pictures|
THE DARK HORSE
2016, 124 minutes
Rated R for language throughout, and drug use
Review by Joshua Handler
It's amusing that this film is being released less than a month away from another acclaimed film with the same title, save for the word the in the title. That other film is Louise Osmond's Sundance Audience Award-winner, Dark Horse, which, unlike this film, actually is about a horse. And while that inspirational crowd-pleaser is highly recommended (Sony Pictures Classics will release it May 6 NY/LA followed by a nationwide expansion if you're interested), James Napier Robertson's The Dark Horse also gets a high recommendation.
The Dark Horse is an inspirational true-life drama about Genesis Potini (Cliff Curtis), a mentally-ill former chess champion who decides to run a chess club for at-risk youth. While the film is entertaining, touching, and well-directed, it is Cliff Curtis' quietly empathetic performance that makes The Dark Horse worth spending the time and money to see. Curtis' internalized performance paints a bone-deep portrait of a good man forced to fight with his own mind. If this film were being released by a major studio and if Curtis was a well-known actor, he would be a serious Oscar contender.
The ensemble is also perfectly cast. They give surprising, impactful performances that dot the film. The most notable, other than James Rolleston as Genesis' nephew, Mana, is that of Wayne Hapi who plays Genesis' brother, Ariki. A key scene between Curtis and Hapi is a brilliant acting showcase - it's so powerful and filled with subtext that acting coaches could use it in classes.
The Dark Horse is a film that all audiences will enjoy. While the film certainly doesn't do much that's new, it does what it does with such skill and subtlety that the fact that it doesn't do anything new doesn't matter.