The Dark Horse

Out Now On-Demand

Cliff Curtis (Whale Rider, Sunshine) leads this true Kiwi story as Genesis Potini, the speed-chess prodigy from New Zealand. Battling severe bipolar disorder, Genesis finds purpose in coaching a local chess club. Co-stars James Rolleston (Boy).

After being released from a mental institution, Genesis moves in with his distant gang-affiliated brother and teenage nephew (Rolleston). With no desire to stay in the gang house all day, Genesis joins the local Gisborne chess club where he hopes to somehow coach its youthful and diverse members to a national championship.


Drama, True Story & Biography


Rating: M Drug use, offensive language and violence

New Zealand

Official Site

Opening the New Zealand International Film Festival to an immersed crowd, this cinematic tale of real-life chess wizard Genesis Potini holds the power to do the same across the whole nation. The story follows Genesis (Cliff Curtis) and his desire to invigorate the tamariki of the Gisborne chess club into feeling the same passion for the intellectual sport as he does, applying an imaginative Māori perspective to the board game. However, having spent the prior two years in a mental institution, the club-runners reluctantly question whether or not this enthusiasm comes from the head of a ‘crazy person’. Poverty, parental neglect, drug abuse and gang-affiliation add to the despair, but The Dark Horse swiftly relieves the bleakness with surprising and well-timed bouts of rugged comedy.

Be it from a stoic gaze or a display of earnest energy, Cliff Curtis never has us second-guessing the genuineness of Potini’s intentions, making the fragility of his mental state a constant threat that’s as frightening to the audience as it is to him. It’s a performance that has us sharing in his charismatic spirit, the anguish of his internal complex, and his intoxicating triumph when the former conquers the latter. Simply put, Curtis is phenomenal.

Also affected by Gen’s contagious spirit is his nephew Mana (James Rolleston in an admirable post-Boy performance), who is seeking the courage to escape his father’s desire to have him gang-patched. While Mana’s torment is painstaking enough, it’s Gen’s brother Ariki who is the ultimate tragic figure. Making a stupendous feature debut, Wayne Hapi’s exhausted eyes alone demonstrate a man with loving intentions for his son, intentions clouded by considerable anger and crippling fear. Writer and director James Napier Robertson’s ability to subtlety visualise his superbly written characters’ situations is also the mark of a quality filmmaker, no image being more distinct than when Gen attempts to pull Mana out of the fire.

Stuff (New Zealand)


A feel-good true story... ultimately it's not the narrative which will affect you as much as watching these two sensational faces portray variations on harrowing and hope.

Cheese On Toast (New Zealand)


A sensitively-handled, but extremely powerful story.

Urban Cinefile (Australia)


James Napier Robertson has sculpted a compelling film.

Hollywood Reporter


An emotionally potent story of redemption anchored by a heart-piercing lead performance from Cliff Curtis.

IndieWire (USA)


Contrary to the standard Hollywood diagnosis of mental illness, it doesn't improve according to how much love a sufferer receives, although there is a lot of love between Curtis and his epic character.

New Zealand Herald


The best to come out of these shores in many a year.

At The Movies (Australia)


A really terrific film... So well done, you can't help but be moved by it.


This was an amazing film, very moving and poetic with a pertinent subject matter. A startling reflection of certain cultural aspects of contemporary NZ.

dance with shackles

The movie is made out of the true story, which is both inspring and confining. It restricts the film in the narrative as well as the plot. It could have achieved better results by being more fit into the genre.


Went to see the film a few weeks back and going by all the comments on this board it just about covers what I wanted to say. A truly humble man who did not let his illness or personal issues topple his will to rise above his circumstances. A beautiful and touching story, fine acting by the cast and extras, and well done to the film crew for bringing this story to the screen.

A definite MUST watch!

Leaving the theatre after this one, I felt like I had witnessed something really special.

A gripping story about a man battling his own demons, and at the same time having the courage to stand up for what he believed was right. I found myself on the edge of my seat throughout the movie, and laughing and crying along with the characters.

Stunning performances from the cast, especially Cliff Curtis and James Rolleston. I feel so proud that this has come out of my home country!

This is not a great review.

This is not a great review, but what a great film. The performance from not only Cliff that played Genesis but also Wayne Hapi, what an amazing talent, first time actor stays true to what he has been through and really his performance shines. A great film, I will be first to get it on bluray. and I still need to watch it second time on the big screen, It is worth it. Great Film!




Worth more stars if there was a little violence

The underlying true story is amazing. Genesis (brilliantly played by Cliff Curtis, and he's not the only good actor in the movie) deserves a lot more recognition.

A "genius", but like so many, tortured. in real life the story goes so much further.

The inspirational potential perhaps lost due to the undercurrent, albeit to some extent representing real life, or as was said in the film "the real world".





A wonderful tribute to a man who was bigger than his circumstances. A warm, wonderful, involving film depicting an ordinary man who, despite his own struggles (or perhaps because of them), taught 15,000 kids that they were worth something. Truly inspiring.


Loved this movie, can't say anything else about it but go see it - everyone else covered it above.

Close To Home

This is an emotional, moving film. It is based on a true story. It shows young people born into families,where their normal way of life is fueled with drugs and alcohol. They are also expected to follow along this path of crime and aggression.

Then along comes Genesis Potini,a man with a brilliant mind,who leads them on a path of escape.With a sense of purpose he shows them what they may be capable of.

The performance by Cliff Curtis is so real that the viewer remains locked in for the length of the movie.

The makers of this film have ended up with a top quality movie.

Will need subtitles for Europe and America

When we as a small country can produce films like this then we can be rightly proud. A great story that doesn't try to gloss over difficult issues. Every kiwi should go and see this. You won't regret it.

Audiences abroad may need some assistance with the authentic accents.