The Dark Horse

***

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

"To be a winner you must believe"

Dark? He is Maori. Horse? Hardly.

This is the story - true story - of a mentally ill man who dedicates his clear time to the coaching of deprived kids.

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Soccer? No. Rugby? No. What then? Chess.

We have been here before. Close enough. Teacher inspires rebellious drop outs from dysfunctional families to believe in themselves and achieve academic success - Stand And Deliver, Freedom Writers, The Triumph.

The difference this time is that Genesis (Cliff Curtis) is not an obvious role model. He sleeps rough, talks to himself and appears confused. He wears cast-offs and finds communication intimidating.

The film takes time to bed down. The early section exposes aspects of Maori culture that appear authoritarian and violent, fueled by alcohol and prejudice, reality in the raw.

What works so powerfully in Gary Oldman's Nil By Mouthand Mike Leigh's Naked feels muddied here. Genesis lacks the vibrancy of Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook. He's a prisoner of his illness. The key is chess. He was a champ once. If he can inspire the neighborhood kids to share his enthusiasm for the game he will find purpose, even closure.

Writer/director James Napier Robertson should be applauded for his uncompromising approach to the romance of indigenous ritual (there is none) although having to rely on subtitles is unnecessary and annoying.

To be a winner you must believe. Genesis does.

Reviewed on: 03 Mar 2015
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A biopic about Genesis 'Gen' Potini, a chess champion who struggled with severe bipolar disorder.
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Glasgow 2015

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