For a few months in my early 20s, I was an avid chessplayer. I read Bobby Fisher‘s book, I learned all about interposition, I started winning a few games against strangers online, and then regrettably the fad ended for me.
But for real life speed chess wizard Genesis Potini chess was an all consuming passion and metaphor for life. In the film The Dark Horse, the native New Zealander Genesis uses Māori legend and origin myths to describe the overall strategy, and his advocacy to keep the center of the board strong follows him creating a team of people around him when faced with potential isolation.
You might know Cliff Curtis best in his role on AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead, but in the role of the titular “Dark Horse” Genesis, he’s completely transformative. To be completely on the level with you, I didn’t even recognize him. He gave, in my opinion, an Oscar-worthy performance of a man struggling with mental illness, looking to connect with his family, while helping those who also need a sense of purpose.
The other standout performance was delivered by Wayne Hapi, who played the part of Genesis’ brother Ariki. A member of a violent bike gang, Ariki is a soft-spoken, watery-eyed giant, conflicted about how to handle his own son Mana’s future; while it’s clear that Mana is getting horribly abused at the hands of the other bikers as a result of initiation rituals, Ariki does nothing.
Genesis’ journey to lead a group of underprivileged kids to a chess tournament, is mirrored by his own quest to rescue Mana from a bleak, prospect-less future. With long shots, engulfing sound design, and handheld cinematography, The Dark Horse makes you feel as overwhelmed as Genesis is with his emotions. Not to mention how the film immerses you in the middle of New Zealand culture, which is a character in and of itself.
With the whole thing running over 2 hours, The Dark Horse may run a little long, but what you get in exchange is not your typical vanilla Hollywood treatment of a truly inspirational story. It’s released on April 1st.