The Dark Horse DVD Review

  • Actors: James Rolleston, Cliff Curtis, Kirk Torrance
  • Director: James Napier Robertson
  • Disc Format: Color, Dubbed, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Dubbed: Spanish
  • Region: Region 1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
  • Studio: Broad Green
  • DVD Release Date: July 12, 2016
  • Run Time: 124 minutes

        Despite being based on a true story, the narrative in The Dark Horse resembles the type of formulaic plot seen so often cinematically that few surprises are offered within the lengthy run-time. Fortunately, this New Zealand drama is held together by the committed performances of the cast rather than any originality in the script. It may not offer many surprises, but it tells a familiar story well and does justice to the real people and events it was based upon.

        The Dark Horse doesn’t just utilize one formula, but rather several at the same time. There is the story of mental illness in the struggles of protagonist Genesis Potini (Cliff Curtis), family drama as he rebuilds the relationship with his brother Ariki (Wayne Hapi) after being released from a mental institution, and the inspirational underdog tale told through the inner city kids that Genesis leads in a chess club. The relationship at the center of the film, however, is between Genesis and his nephew, Mana (James Rolleston). Pessimistic about the realities of what the world has to offer his son, Ariki pushes to have Mana initiated into the violent gang he is a member of, though the young man begins to show an interest in the positive path that Genesis has begun to take in the impoverished community. Competition in a National Chess Championship offers a glimpse of hope and self confidence that the young man is unaccustomed to seeing in his daily life.

        At just over two hours long, The Dark Horse may be a bit more film than the content calls for. Some of the sequences begin to feel redundant and this mostly seems to be a way to showcase Curtis’ dedicated performance as the beloved real-life person he is portraying. The actor gained a great deal of weight and stayed in character during the shoot, but this doesn’t necessarily make up for the amount of time that screenwriter and director James Napier Robertson spends dedicated to his mental struggles. There is a fine line between the portrayal and the exploitation of events, and sometimes it feels as though Robertson revels in the darker elements in order to pad the central performance with some showy sequences.

        Even with some of its cinematic shortcomings, The Dark Horse is an enjoyable film. The predictability of the screenplay is easily forgivable because of how well the characters are fleshed out by the performers. We can believe in the people within the story, which makes accepting the cliché plot devices far easier. And the positive message is something to be embraced, even if it occasionally comes off as unrealistically idealistic. My only suggestion is to watch the film with subtitles. Although some of the dialogue is already subtitled to help the audience, many of these lines were oddly the ones I needed to assistance to understand, while more difficult sections of Gen’s ramblings are left for audiences to struggle with. Thankfully, this DVD provides optional subtitles for all of the dialogue.   

Entertainment Value: 8/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7/10
Historical Significance:  5.5/10
Special Features: 0/10

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