The Dark Horse

2014 real-life drama

Rating: 15/20

Plot: A troubled former chess genius works with a club of troubled children to prepare for a tournament.

This is based on a true story, but at times, it's as predictable as your typical Hollywood troubled-guy-mentoring-a-kid-or-kids-leading-to-a-sappy-underdog-victory story. As with any chess movie, I really pay attention to what happens on the board. There's not much chess to see until the big tournament, but what is there looks good to me. That is until a final game where it appears as if a guy drops a pair of pieces early on, enough to cripple a guy playing another opponent who has made it to a final game. Actually, I've never seen a chess tournament work with this knock-out structure anyway. It's usually round robin.

That's all probably nitpicking that most people watching this aren't going to care about. It is a nice story, though I really wish there would have been more background on some of the kids. They just kind of seemed like less-comical Bad News Bears or something, so their losses and victories in the tournament didn't really resonate. Instead, this focuses on the protagonist, his brother, and his nephew.

I really liked the performances from top to bottom, but the performance of Cliff Curtis as that protagonist Genesis is nearly special. It's the kind of performance where he's able to say a whole lot without saying anything at times. He's perfect at creating this guy who's fighting to be strong when everything around him is pressuring him to be weak. There's a determination that I don't always buy, but that's more to do with the story than Curtis. I liked the guy who played his brother and the kid playing the nephew, too.

Regardless of whether or not this is derivative, this is the kind of stuff that usually gets to me.

I had to watch this with captions even though it's in English. The version of English they speak in New Zealand is different than mine, and it's really hard for me to pick up a lot of what they say.

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