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The Dark Horse DVD Review

The Dark Horse (2016) movie poster The Dark Horse

US Theatrical Release: April 1, 2016 (New Zealand Release: July 17, 2014) / Running Time: 125 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: James Napier Robertson

Cast: Cliff Curtis (Genesis "Gen" Potini), James Rolleston (Mana), Kirk Torrance (Noble Keelan), Wayne Hapi (Ariki), Xavier Horan (Jedi), Barry Te Hira (Mutt), Miriama McDowell (Sandy), Lyel Timu (Rangimarie), Te Ahorangi Retimana-Martin (Rusty), Niwa Whatuira (Michael Manihera), Calae Hignett-Morgan (Piripi), Te Rua Rehu-Martin (Murray), Lionel Wellington (Rip), Wesley Broadfoot (Nathan)

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The New Zealand drama The Dark Horse is intended to inspire. Think Dangerous Minds, but with chess instead of English. It tells the true story of Genesis "Gen" Potini (Cliff Curtis), a troubled man who has been in and out of mental institutions for years.
At the film's start, he is seen wandering around the streets draped in a colorful blanket, captivated by a store's chess board display.

Gen is released again and given a bed to sleep on by his brother Ariki (Wayne Hapi), a hardened gang member. One night, Gen is inspired to pursue an opportunity to help with an informal chess club whose primary purpose is to keep at-risk youths off the street for a few hours. When Ariki sends him on his way with money, Gen, who had success as a chess player years ago with the nickname "The Dark Horse", begins sleeping outside and spends some money instead on buying new chess sets for the club.

Ariki's teenaged son Mana (James Rolleston) is being groomed to join his father's tough, leather-clad gang, but he is more interested in that chess club, a pastime Gen alone wisely thinks the boy is better suited for.

"The Dark Horse" stars Cliff Curtis as Genesis "Gen" Potini, a former chess champion with mental problems who finds stability teaching the game to at-risk youths.

Many American viewers will find The Dark Horse an inaccessible and darn near impenetrable film. First of all, there are the thick accents, which the movie occasionally and rather arbitrarily subtitles.

More problematic is the film's cold design. We never come close to warming to any of these characters, not even the ostensible hero of the piece and his endangered nephew/protιgι.

Gen is supposed to be a powerhouse character and one that Kiwi actor Cliff Curtis, familiar to Western moviegoers from such films as Live Free or Die Hard and Sunshine (and TV viewers from AMC's "Fear the Walking Dead"), should be more than capable of bringing to life with zeal. But Curtis, who distractingly appears to be wearing padding to look bulky, never figures out how to present the Maori character with intrigue or how to win us over. Inexplicably, Gen becomes sane and sociable almost immediately upon getting involved with the chess club. I may not have the most experience with mental illness, but I'm pretty sure that's not how it works. Here, Gen's symptoms manifest most in a distressing nosebleed and a solo nighttime car tantrum.

The Dark Horse doesn't inspire in us any passion for chess and it doesn't even convincingly show us how the game is changing these ragtag children's lives. The whole thing is plodding and tedious, down to a ludicrous ending at a backyard gathering of that big bad gang.

Like most of the films released so far by two-year-old distributor Broad Green Pictures, The Dark Horse, which is not to be confused with 2016 UK horse racing documentary Dark Horse, failed to find an audience in theaters and to generate the demand to sustain an expansion of any significance. (It did arrive in North America theaters almost two years after Oceania ones and a year after the film opened in the UK.) That was in spite of near-universal acclaim from critics. The studio brings it to DVD, but not Blu-ray this week.

The Dark Horse DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: July 12, 2016
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $26.99
Black Keepcase


I've already discussed the thick accents and inconsistent use of subtitles, which are of the burned-in variety. Player-generated English SDH and Spanish subtitles are offered over the entirety of the film. The DVD's feature presentation is a tad lackluster, but the film doesn't seem to have the most striking of aesthetics anyway. The 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer lacks detail and sharpness, while the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack almost never commands notice.

Gen soaks up the rain on the main menu of The Dark Horse's barebones Region 1 DVD.


Nothing that you would count as an extra accompanies The Dark Horse on DVD, although Broad Green characteristically loads the disc with trailers for their other movies. The "Also from Broad Green Pictures" section provides individual and group access to full previews for I Smile Back, Samba, Eden, 10,000 km, Break Point, A Walk in the Woods, Learning to Drive, Last Days in the Desert, Knight of Cups, Song of Lehore, and 99 Homes. (The last four of those play automatically at disc insertion.)

The menus place listings on the tiles that are adapted from the film's cover and poster art.

No inserts join the gray disc inside the unslipcovered keepcase.

Gen (Cliff Curtis) takes his gang-initiated nephew Mana (James Rollerston) under his wing in a mentor/protιgι way.


The Dark Horse feels like the type of small foreign movie that critics should love and enthusiastically recommend. But this critic didn't enjoy it very much at all. Lacking warmth and energy throughout, this lifeless drama fails to earn the inspirational label it desperately wants to carry.

Broad Green's DVD is as basic a release as you can find these days. Most won't be compelled to even give the disc a rental and I can't summon any reason to persuade you otherwise, unless you're a chess-loving New Zealander who dearly values Cliff Curtis as an actor.

Buy The Dark Horse on DVD from Amazon.com

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Related Reviews:
New to Disc: Eddie the Eagle • The Mermaid • The Adderall Diaries • Knight of Cups • The Driftless Area • The Family Fang
Oceania: The Sapphires • Animal Kingdom • What We Do in the Shadows • Eagle vs Shark • Accidents Happen
Chess: Life of a King • Pawn Sacrifice • Whatever Works • Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Cliff Curtis: Sunshine • A Thousand Words • The Insider • Push

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Reviewed July 11, 2016.

Text copyright 2016 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2016 Broad Green Pictures, Four Knights Film, Seville International, The New Zealand Film Commission,
NZonAIR, Southern Lights Film, and Arama Pictures. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.