DARK HORSE (unrated)

Dark Horse (unrated)


Movie Info

Rating: * * * 

Cast: Jordan Gelber, Selma Blair, Donna Murphy, Christopher Walken, Mia Farrow, Zachary Booth, Justin Bartha.

Writer-director: Todd Solondz.

Producers: Ted Hope, Derrick Tseng.

An Emerging Pictures release. Running time: 84 minutes. Vulgar language, adult themes. In Miami-Dade: Cosford Cinema, Miami Beach Cinematheque; in Broward: Cinema Paradiso; in Palm Beach: Mos’ Art.


Abe (Jordan Gelber), the unfortunate protagonist of Dark Horse, embodies all the worst traits of male-arrested development and none of the funny, adorable ones (Steve Carell would have never played this role). Abe is overweight, bratty and petulant. He’s well into his 30s, but he still lives at home with his parents and has no intention of moving out. His father (Christopher Walken) gives him a desk job at the family business, because he knows no one else would hire him. When he looks at his son, his eyes radiate disappointment.

Abe’s mother (Mia Farrow) plays backgammon with him and tries to be cheerful and supportive of his hobbies, which include collecting toy action figures. Abe drives an enormous yellow Humvee (he can afford it because he has no rent or expenses to pay) and when he meets a mopey young woman named Miranda (Selma Blair) at a wedding, he gets her phone number and starts treating her like his girlfriend, even though she’s so mired in depression she barely knows he exists.

Dark Horse is, in some ways, a horror remake of The 40-Year-Old Virgin: Abe seems to be beyond help, and he’s surrounded by facilitators who are doing nothing to snap him out of his funk. The only person who takes a genuine interest is Marie (Donna Murphy), a co-worker who may even be harboring a crush on him. But Abe treats her in a condescending manner, as if she were beneath him. In the films of writer-director Todd Solondz ( Happiness, Storytelling, Welcome to the Dollhouse), kindness is rarely rewarded, and even the lumpiest outcasts are capable of casual cruelty.

With Dark Horse, though, Solondz is up to something different. Instead of wallowing in nihilistic laughs and mocking Abe’s predicament, the filmmaker manages to make you care for this unlikable schlump, to see the vulnerability deep beneath his strident exterior. Gelber ( Boardwalk Empire) plays Abe as a righteously entitled whiner, the sort of petty man who strides into a store waving a receipt and demanding to see the manager over a $10 purchase. He’s exasperated by everything and everyone: He resents his brother (Justin Bartha) for being a successful doctor; he hates his father for squashing his dream of becoming a singer; and he demands his mom write him a check for the $800 she owes him, as if he were a bill collector.

In his earlier movies, Solondz would have made Abe pay for his crimes of ego and selfishness, or maybe even let him get away with everything, leaving a trail of broken people in his wake. In Dark Horse, Solondz takes a different route. There’s a genuine poignancy in the relationship between Abe and Miranda, who entertains the deluded man’s marriage proposal as a last-ditch effort to avoid suicide (he’s oblivious to her state of mind). There’s sweetness, too, in a funny scene in which Marie shocks Abe by revealing a secret side of her life, a reminder of how he’s making a mistake by always assuming the worst in people.

There’s a streak of compassion in Dark Horse, a sincere empathy for a thoroughly detestable man, that is as surprising as anything in Solondz’s earlier, more transgressive work. When Abe’s mother tells him, “We’ve written you off as a failure years ago; everyone knew,” she says it out of love, not anger, and you understand her intent. Dark Horse doesn’t end on an entirely cheerful note — Solondz will never be much for happy endings — but the film is strangely optimistic and at times borders on the whimsical. Who knew Solondz had this in him?

Read more Reeling with Rene Rodriguez stories from the Miami Herald

 <span class="cutline_leadin">What’s the secret?</span> Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites are a brother and sister trying to solve the mystery of a demonic mirror in ‘Oculus.’

    Oculus (R)

    Mirrors have been as much of a fixture in horror movies as knives and cats that suddenly jump from the shadows. But they’re best in cameos, as in the ending of Dressed to Kill or the bathroom scene in The Shining. Oculus revolves entirely around an ornate mirror that is, what, a gateway to hell? A summoning force for evil spirits? A really ugly piece of furniture from a medieval Pottery Barn?

Iko Uwais and Cecep Arif Rahman square off in a scene from ‘The Raid 2.’

    The Raid 2 (R)

    Every time you think The Raid 2 can’t possibly top itself, writer-director Gareth Evans goes “Oh, yeah? Watch this.” Most of 2011’s The Raid: Redemption took place inside a tenement raided by a SWAT team to apprehend a mobster and his squad of killers holed up inside. Practically no one survived the movie — the violence was astonishing — but the contained setting and the idea of having events grow hairier for the good guys the higher they went in the building gave the tight 101-minute movie a sense of compressed, relentless action. Now comes The Raid 2 (known as The Raid 2: Bernadal in its native Indonesia), which is far more expansive and complicated, and runs almost 2 ½ hours. Miraculously, the new picture makes the old one feel like Evans was just warming up.

A sexual addict (Charlotte Gainsbourg) visits a therapist (Jamie Bell) with unorthodox methods to try to help get over her compulsion in ‘Nymphomaniac: Vol. 2’

    NYMPHOMANIAC VOL. 2 (unrated)

    Nymphomaniac Vol. 2 (unrated)

    Things get really kinky in Nymphomaniac Vol. 2, the second chapter in director Lars von Trier’ epic-length saga about a woman who can’t get enough. If you saw Vol. 1, which ended with our perpetually horny heroine Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) losing all feeling in her sexual organs, you might be wondering, “How could this movie outdo the first one?” To quote the great Bachman-Turner Overdrive, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category