Something in the waters of New Zealand. Like its country cousin Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Dark Horse delivers a striking narrative with emotional resonance. Written and directed masterfully by James Napier Robertson, this real-life story of chess champion Genesis Potini earns its well-deserved 97% critical rating.
The dark horse himself, Main Character Genesis (Cliff Curtis) struggles with maintaining stability while battling the voices within his mind (
Main Character Domain of Mind,
Main Character Symptom of Results). He sees things that aren’t there and talks to himself when he gets stressed out—inappropriate behavior by most standards, and the thing that makes him stand out in a crowd (
Main Character Problem of Non-Accurate). He values the children he works with, a quality that outweighs any disability people think he suffers from (
Main Character Unique Ability of Value,
Main Character Critical Flaw of Ability).
Genesis wants to help the underprivileged children of his neighborhood find something positive to do with their life and finds that in a local chess club (
Overall Story Throughline of Activity,
Overall Story Concern of Doing). The children need stability just as much as Genesis and as long as he takes care of himself and works the regiment provided to him these kids might have a chance to win (
Overall Story Symptom of
Main Character Response of Process,
Overall Story Benchmark of Obtaining).
Two Throughlines, however, is not enough to create a main story—something Robertson clearly understands. Both Ariki (Wayne Hapi) and Mana (James Rolleston)—brother and nephew to Genesis respectively— provide the
Influence Character Throughline perspective needed to challenge Genesis. Caught up in gangs and the consequences of a depressed economy, both father and son cling to old traditions—even as the father continues to fade away (
Influence Character Throughline of Situation,
Influence Character Problem of Unending,
Influence Character Concern of Progress). Left with no one to turn to, and no one to place a hand on his shoulder, Ariki looks to the only family he has ever known to help harden up and prepare his son for what is to come (‘Influence Character Symptom
of *Trust*,Influence Character Response
of *Test*,Influence Character Benchmark` of Future).
Family is the subject matter of the
Relationship Story Throughline in The Dark Horse. Fulfilling the roles needed to see to it that those in your family are taken care of and that “everything will be OK” brings Ariki and Genesis into the emotional conflict over who is charge of Mana’s upbringing (
Relationship Story Concern of Playing a Role,
Relationship Story Throughline in Manner of Thinking). Genesis has yet to show Ariki that he has what it takes to become a father to Mana when Ariki he is gone and therefore denies Genesis’ pleas at every turn (
Relationship Story Problem of Unproven,
Relationship Story Benchmark of Becoming). Genesis fails to convince Ariki to see things his way and Mana gets “patched” in preparation for his birthday induction into the gang (
Relationship Story Throughline of Manipulation,
Story Driver of Action).
Mana’s birthday happens to be on the same weekend as the chess tournament, and after a fit of rage that leaves the dark horse soaked and broken, Genesis absconds with Mana to Auckland (
Story Limit of Timelock,
Main Character Signpost 3 of Innermost Desires). Replacing Genesis as the king after an untimely bipolar episode forces our Main Character to wait outside, Mana watches and focuses his energy on his teammates’ gameplay (
Overall Story Response of Process). The Eastern Knights win, bringing an end to any doubt the children had that they couldn’t make something of themselves (
Overall Story Outcome of Success,
Overall Story Solution of Ending).
Their celebration is cut short by the arrival of Ariki who delivers a quick fist to the face of Genesis and leaves with Mana in tow. Genesis returns home saddened and beat, left to contemplate what he should and shouldn’t do (
Main Character Benchmark of Innermost Desires,
Main Character Signpost 4 of Contemplations). He eventually decides to show up at his brother’s house unannounced to take Mana home with him.
Mutt (Baz Te Hira), a gang member responsible for breaking in Mana, beats Genesis with a lead pipe. Genesis turns to confront Mutt, with all the anger and built-up abuse welling up in him—Genesis simply steps forward and asks Mutt when he is going to stop crying (
Main Character Approach of Be-er,
Main Character Resolve of Steadfast). A lesser film would have had Genesis delivering a satisfying, yet emotionally incongruous punch to Mutt’s jawline. Thankfully, writer/director Robertson knows what he is doing.
Instead, it is brother Ariki who shifts his paradigm and tells Mutt to back off (
Influence Character Resolve of Changed). Having seen now that Genesis is capable of doing what is necessary to take care of his son, Ariki brings an end to Mana’s foray into gang culture (
Relationship Story Solution of Proven,
Influence Character Solution of Ending). Genesis leaves with Mana and once again is faced with the opportunity to turnaround and face Mutt with physical violence—but doesn’t (
Main Character Approach of Be-er).
Both Mana and Genesis head home together—the thought of Ariki dying on both their minds (
Relationship Story Issue of Thought). With a gentle place of his hand on his uncle’s shoulder, Mana silently confirms to Genesis that everything will be OK (
Story Judgment of Good).