The Dark Horse | Chicago Reader

The Dark Horse

The plot of this New Zealand feature (2014) sticks to the template for inspirational-coach dramas, but the genre outlines tend to fade away thanks to the grungy locations, the actors' evident sincerity, and a magnetic performance from Cliff Curtis (Whale Rider) as the troubled hero. A chess champion recovering from bipolar disorder, he volunteers to coach a chess club for underprivileged Maori kids and immediately announces they're going to compete in the National Chess Championships six weeks hence. Their seemingly impossible mission is complicated further by the coach's fragile mental health and by a violent conflict between a star player (James Rolleston) and his father (Wayne Hapi), a biker who wants the boy to drop the chess and join his motorcycle gang. James Napier Robertson directed his own script, which was inspired by Jim Marbrook's 2012 documentary Mental Notes.



  • James Napier Robertson


  • Cliff Curtis
  • James Rolleston
  • Kirk Torrance
  • Xavier Horan
  • Miriama McDowell
  • Wayne Hapi
  • James Napier Robertson
  • Te Retimana-Martin
  • Sia Trokenheim


  • Tom Hern
  • Timothy White
  • Cliff Curtis

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