The Dark Horse

DRAMA; 2hr 4min

STARRING: Cliff Curtis, James Rolleston, Wayne Hapi

Check mate: Curtis

If adversity defines us, the late Genesis Potini (Curtis) was a warrior. Known in his New Zealand chess champion days as The Dark Horse, the older Genesis of writer-director James Napier Robertson’s biographical drama is bipolar and homeless, an outcast even in a hard-bitten Maori culture whose members are outcasts themselves.


Discharged from a psychiatric hospital into the indifferent care of his brother, outlaw biker Ariki (Hapi), who soon turfs him out, Gen’s salvation is Gisborne’s shambolic Eastern Knights chess club, whom he wildly vows to lead to victory in the Junior National Chess Championship in Auckland in six weeks’ time. Genius and craziness are famous stable mates and Gen proves an inspirational teacher — of the unruly kids and Ariki’s teenage son (Rolleston), who joins the club against his father’s wishes to escape the quagmire of gang life.


A man grappling with his sanity on society’s outermost edge wouldn’t be served by soft focus and Robertson gives embellishments a wide berth. Pared back to hand-held basics, The Dark Horse is raggedly genuine as Gen battles with life, with himself and to do what he knows is right. He’s a craggy jewel in a crown of thorns.