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Film Reviews The Dark Horse: Inspiring chess drama avoids trap of sentimentality

Cliff Curtis portrays Genesis Potini in The Dark Horse.

3.5 out of 4 stars

Title
James Napier Robertson
Written by
Cliff Curtis, James Rolleston, Wayne Hapi
Directed by
James Napier Robertson
Classification
PG
Country
USA
Language
English

In most films, a scene that begins with the guitar solo from Lynyrd Skynyrd's Free Bird isn't going to end well, it being a soundtrack for a spiralling, escalating and inevitable sort of climactic violence. But The Dark Horse, James Napier Robertson's strong and true story of redemption, family bonds and a bipolar former chess prodigy, is not most films. Cliff Curtis deeply and soulfully portrays the late Genesis Potini, a check-mating New Zealander who battles demons and gang members while attempting to inspire a ragtag youth chess club. The cinematography is evocative – rainy, rich, gritty and raw, for this inspiring but not always pretty story – and Curtis is 100-per-cent watchable as a puffy, mumbling shuffler whose chess lessons double as life strategies. One of his coach-y adages is to "control the centre," a tactic winningly employed by writer-director Robertson, who avoids the cornering trap of sentimentality.

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