“The Dark Horse” is a powerful film, a biographical study of an extraordinary and transcendent New Zealand man of Maori descent, Geness Potini. “Gen” was a genius with bipolar disorder. He figured out how to use his own obsession with speed chess (a form of chess with timed plays) as a tool to develop the minds of bright underprivileged kids. Along the way he battled a great deal of prejudice against his race and his mental condition. An earlier documentary of Gen’s life called “Dark Horse” was shot prior to his 2011 death from a heart attack. The filmmakers of “The Dark Horse” decided that a feature film about this inspirational legend was a necessity.

Gen was never a success in an academic environment despite his high intelligence. In fact, he was in and out of mental institutions. However he was self-taught in a wide variety of subjects and was fluent in Maori, English and Chinese. Using chess, Maori mythology and analogies from his own life, Gen was able to communicate with troubled kids who were intellectually superior yet had learning or behavioral problems such as ADHD or dyslexia. He had a remarkable influence on the lives of many.

The filmmakers do a fantastic job bringing the reality of the story front and center.  Director James Napier Robertson, a New Zealand actor turned writer/director, has assembled a great crew and cast. U.S. composer Dana Lund, who moved to New Zealand to score the film, adds a superb sound track. Never intrusive, it only adds to your immersion into the environment. Cinematographer Denson Baker has used almost entirely a hand-held style where the camera moved only when the characters moved. This works to draw the audience into the emotion of each chess player.

Cliff Curtis plays Gen. He is an actor of Maori descent, born In New Zealand.  However, in past films and television he has played many different ethnicities – another example of how homogenized our various races are becoming. Many of Gen’s friends had similar reactions watching Curtis play him on set. He was able to channel such an uncanny resemblance that the friends felt they were seeing the real Gen arise from the dead. The movement of the camera with the players, combined with great performances by all will make you feel as if you are moving within the story yourself. You will feel like you are playing chess with these resilient and colorful characters.

In the first scene of the film, Gen walks in the pouring rain covered by a colorful cloak. He goes into a gift store and discovers a chessboard. This scene sets the tone and mirrors Gen’s mental state. It’s one of the finest film openings I’ve seen. “The Dark Horse” will have you questioning preconceived ideas of what sanity is. It will open your eyes to a world you most likely have never set foot in and will reassure you there is hope no matter where you are on Earth.

Not Rated

124 Minutes

Released April 1st / special premiere March 30th hosted by James Cameron

Now playing at the Laemmle Royal West Los Angeles

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which is the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people.  She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com. For previously published reviews see https://kwboole.wordpress.com/.