The Dark Horse (2014 film)

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The Dark Horse
The Dark Horse - 2014 - poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJames Napier Robertson
Written byJames Napier Robertson
Produced byTom Hern
CinematographyDenson Baker
Edited byPeter Roberts
Music byDana Lund
  • Four Knights Film[1]
  • Southern Light Films
Distributed byTransmission Films
Release date
  • 17 July 2014 (2014-07-17) (New Zealand)
Running time
125 minutes[2]
CountryNew Zealand
Budget$2.1 million[3]
Box office$1.9 million[4]

The Dark Horse is a 2014 New Zealand drama film written and directed by James Napier Robertson and starring Cliff Curtis and James Rolleston. It won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Score at the 2014 New Zealand Film Awards, Best Film at the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF), 2015 San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF) and 2015 Rotterdam International Film Festival (IFFR), was New York Times Critics' Pick[5] and Time Magazine Critics' Pick,[6] and was labeled by leading New Zealand critics as "One of the greatest New Zealand films ever made".[7][8] It premiered at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and was created by production company Four Knights Film. The film was released theatrically in the U.S. by Broad Green Pictures on 1 April 2016.[9][10]


The Dark Horse is based on the real-life story of Genesis Potini, a brilliant New Zealand chess player who suffered from severe bipolar disorder. The film begins with him walking down a street in the rain, before walking into an antique store and playing a chess game with himself. He has flashbacks of being taught chess by his older brother, and eventually is taken away by police officers to a hospital because of his mental state. He is released into the care of his brother Ariki, who allows him to sleep in his son's room. Upon hearing about a chess club run by his old chess buddy Noble Keelan, he goes around to his house early in the morning to ask to join. He is told he can only do so if he promises to not "rock the boat." Genesis meets the Eastern Knights Chess club in a shed where he learns that they only have one chess board, and the kids aren't particularly motivated. He introduces himself and discloses that he wants to lead them to the Junior National Championships in Auckland, something Noble is initially frustrated with Genesis about. Mana, Ariki's son, followed him to the club, and it is revealed that he will be patched into his father's Gang, the Vagrants, on his birthday. He is given over to Mutt to harden him up. Ariki, believing that Genesis could interfere with this process asks him to leave. Genesis begins sleeping on the monument on Kaiti Hill, and leading meetings at the Chess club, now held at the marae with new chess sets. Mana, though initially hostile towards Genesis begins to see him more regularly, and joins the chess club. Mana reveals that he has been abused and urinated on by Mutt as part of his gang initiation. He also has a V tattooed on his face.

The mother of one of the members of Eastern Knights finds out that Genesis is homeless, and refuses to let her son participate, sending him into another mental breakdown. Sandy allows him to sleep at a friends house, and they all prepare to go to Auckland for the championship. Mana realizes he can't come as it is on the day that he'll be patched, and leaves angrily. Genesis attempts to reason with Ariki, but he refuses to let Mana leave. On the day they leave for Auckland, Genesis stops at the monument to pick up a distraught Mana, and says that Ariki has allowed him to come. They go to Auckland, and all the members of Eastern Knights lose their games apart from Michael and Mana. That night, Mana reveals that he knows Genesis lied about him having permission to come, but that Mana knows his father is dying. He ends up losing his match the next day, but Michael goes on to compete in the final. Genesis repeatedly calls out during the final, and has to be sent outside, but Michael ends up winning the final. Ariki arrives shortly after, and punches Genesis before he yells at Mana to get in the car. The Eastern Knights travel back to Gisborne, and Genesis is visibly upset. He goes over to his brother's to find his nephew, who is unconscious with a black eye. It is revealed that he has just been patched, and Mutt begins beating Genesis, but is stopped by Ariki. Genesis removes Mana's jacket, and they walk out together, being followed and verbally abused by Mutt. Other members of the Gang begin beating Mutt, and Genesis and Mana leave. The closing montage reveals that the Eastern Knights chess club is still being run, and that Genesis passed away in 2011.[11]


Real-life basis[edit]

The character Curtis plays, Genesis, is inspired by real-life Gisborne speed chess player and coach Genesis Potini, who died in 2011. By teaching local youth to play chess, he hoped to give them a positive focus in life and dissuade them from getting involved in gangs and crime. Potini struggled with bipolar disorder, requiring frequent hospital stays.[12] Potini had been the subject of a well received 2003 documentary film, Dark Horse.[13] At the request of director James Napier Robertson, Curtis gained close to 27 kg (60 pounds) in weight and stayed in character for the entirety of the shoot to play Genesis.[14] Napier Robertson also had Curtis study chess with some of Potini's erstwhile friends, including FIDE Master Ewen Green.[15]


Box office[edit]

The Dark Horse grossed $67,533 in the United States and Canada and $1.8 million in other countries for a worldwide total of $1.9 million,[4] against a production budget of $2.1 million.[3]

Critical reception[edit]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 97%, based on 62 reviews, with an average rating of 7.5/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Led by an outstanding performance from Cliff Curtis, The Dark Horse tackles complex themes with a richly layered, unpredictable, and deeply affecting story."[16] On Metacritic, the film holds a rating of 77 out of 100, based on 20 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[17] Upon its premiere as the Opening Night film of the New Zealand International Film Festival on 17 July 2014,[18] The Dark Horse was declared by the RNZ National Review "One of the greatest New Zealand films ever made".[8] The film went on to become a New Zealand box office hit, grossing $2 million and receiving unanimously strong reviews. The New Zealand Herald rated it 5 stars, calling it "a great, deeply affecting movie", praising the "brave, assured and layered directing" and the "towering performance of Cliff Curtis".[19] It was released theatrically in Australia on 20 November 2014. The Australian called it "outstanding ... a Kiwi – and largely Maori – work of the highest artistic excellence";[20] the Sydney Morning Herald praised it as "possibly the best movie to come out of New Zealand since Once Were Warriors in 1994".[21] It premiered internationally at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.[22] Variety calling it "exceptional...the most deserving cinematic export to emerge from New Zealand in years",[23] The Hollywood Reporter announcing it "certain to attract awards attention",[24] and Indiewire grading it an 'A', praising it as "moving and incredibly humanistic."[25]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Work Result Ref.
2014 Asia Pacific Screen Awards Best Performance by an Actor Cliff Curtis Won [26]
2014 Rialto Channel New Zealand Film Awards Best Film The Dark Horse Won [27]
Best Director James Napier Robertson Won
Best Screenplay James Napier Robertson Won
Best Actor Cliff Curtis Won
Best Supporting Actor James Rolleston Won
Best Score Dana Lund Won
Best Supporting Actor Wayne Hapi Nominated
Best Make-Up Jane O'Kane Nominated
Best Costume Design Kristin Seth Nominated
Best Editing Peter Roberts Nominated
Best Sound Chris Todd, Nick Buckton, Fred Enholmer, Tim Chaproniere Nominated
Best Production Design Kim Sinclair Nominated
Best Cinematographer Denson Baker Nominated
New Zealand Writers Guild Best Feature Film The Dark Horse Won [28]
2015 Art Film Fest Best Director James Napier Robertson Won [29]
Best Film The Dark Horse Nominated
Dublin Film Critics' Circle Best Actor Cliff Curtis Won [30]
Best Film The Dark Horse Nominated
Heartland Film Festival Truly Moving Picture Award The Dark Horse Won [31]
International Film Festival Rotterdam Audience Award James Napier Robertson Won [32]
MovieZone Award The Dark Horse Won
Munich Film Festival Best International Film The Dark Horse Nominated [33]
Best Film By An Emerging Director James Napier Robertson Nominated
Seattle International Film Festival Best Film The Dark Horse Won [34]
Best Actor Cliff Curtis Won
San Francisco International Film Festival Best Film The Dark Horse Won [35]
Palm Springs International Film Festival Audience Award The Dark Horse Won
Washington DC Film Festival Commendation The Dark Horse Won
St Tropez International Film Festival Best Film The Dark Horse Won


  1. ^ "The Dark Horse". Four Knights Film. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
  2. ^ "THE DARK HORSE (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 25 March 2015. Retrieved 26 March 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 December 2016. Retrieved 7 December 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ a b "The Dark Horse". Box Office Mojo. Amazon. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
  5. ^ Holden, Stephen (31 March 2016). "Review: 'The Dark Horse' Dramatizes the Tale of a Chess Coach". The New York Times.
  6. ^ "File not found".
  7. ^ "Seeing the Light Behind the Dark Horse". Archived from the original on 22 April 2016. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
  8. ^ a b "Film review with Dan Slevin". Radio New Zealand National. 24 July 2014.
  9. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (23 July 2015). "Broad Green Dates Three: 'I Smile Back', 'The Dark Horse', Malick's 'Knight Of Cups'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 23 July 2015.
  10. ^ Brennan, Matt. "Broad Green Sets Release Dates for Bryan Cranston's 'The Infiltrator,' Ewan McGregor's 'Last Days in the Desert'". Indie Wire. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
  11. ^ Rutledge, Daniel (24 June 2014). "New Zealand Film Festival 2014 To Open With THE DARK HORSE". Screen Anarchy. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  12. ^ Bevan, Darren (22 July 2014). "NZIFF Review - The Dark Horse". Retrieved 27 July 2014.
  13. ^ "Speed chess maestro of Ngati Porou stars in independent documentary". The Big Idea. 6 November 2003.
  14. ^ "The Dark Horse (2014) - IMDb". IMDb.
  15. ^ Retrieved 12 June 2015. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  16. ^ "The Dark Horse (2016)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
  17. ^ "The Dark Horse Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 21 March 2017.
  18. ^ Preston, Nikki (17 July 2014). "New Cliff Curtis film Dark Horse at short odds". The New Zealand Herald.
  19. ^ Baillie, Russell (31 July 2014). "Movie review: The Dark Horse". The New Zealand Herald.
  20. ^ Romei, Stephen (22 November 2014). "The Dark Horse: Maori lives caught up in chess and violence". The Australian. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  21. ^ Byrnes, Paul (21 November 2014). "The Dark Horse review: Triumphant game of life and death". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  22. ^ Schoettle, Jane. "The Dark Horse". TIFF. Toronto International Film Festival. Archived from the original on 29 December 2014. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  23. ^ "Film Review: 'The Dark Horse'". 20 January 2015.
  24. ^ Rechtshaffen, Michael (11 September 2014). "'The Dark Horse': Toronto Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  25. ^ Anderson, John (11 September 2014). "Toronto review: Cliff Curtis excels as a chess master in 'The Dark Horse'". Indiewire. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  26. ^ "8th Annual Asia Pacific Screen Award Winners". 11 December 2014. Archived from the original on 15 December 2014. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  27. ^ Baillie, Russell (12 December 2014). "The Dark Horse sweeps NZ film awards". Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  28. ^ "SWANZ Winners & Finalists 2014". Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  29. ^ "Art Film Fest 2015". Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  30. ^ Clarke, Donald (29 March 2015). "The winners at JDIFF from the Dublin Film Critics Circle". Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  31. ^ "Heartland Truly Moving Picture Award Archives". Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  32. ^ "Awards 2015". Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  33. ^ "Families, Westerns, Northwesterns". 19 June 2015. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  34. ^ "2015 Award Winners". Archived from the original on 14 June 2015. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  35. ^ "The Dark Horse and Cliff Curtis win film awards in Seattle". Stuff. 8 June 2015. Retrieved 30 May 2021.

External links[edit]