Calm With Horses Review
Making your first film must be difficult. Not only do you have to juggle several things at once for the first time, the pressure to succeed is immense. Every now and then though, we get a real diamond in the rough, something so great and promising it’s hard to look away and not get excited. The last one I recall was Michael Pearce’s fascinating Beast, but Nick Rowland’s Calm With Horses offers similar thrills and potential.
The film follows ex-boxer Douglas “Arm” Armstrong (Cosmo Jarvis), a young, brutal man working for the Devers gang. Arm will beat up a man if and when instructed so by the people in charge. It’s not a glamorous life, but Arm gets by. He has a five-year-old son Jack (Kiljan Moroney) with ex-girlfriend Ursula (Niamh Algar) , but finds it difficult to be a good father to the autistic Jack. After the Devers’ instruct Arm to kill a man, Arm must weigh his own morality against those of who he works for.
Jarvis is staggeringly good as Arm, bringing a lot of pathos and vulnerability to the role. It’s a layered performance, one that reveals more and more of Arm with every viewing. The film’s best part is when he and Jack spend time together, the tiny, fragile child next to the huge, clumsy Arm - a man who is just trying his best but is in over his head, unable to overcome his own violent mannerisms and nature.
Rowland has a knack for producing beautiful images, but Calm With Horses offers much more than just a pretty Irish setting. Rowland proves himself to be a talented actors’ director, drawing great performance all around the impressive cast. Alongside Jarvis, Barry Keoghan is also magnetic as Arm’s best friend and the Devers’ family member Dympna. Dympna is a dangerously impulsive individual and paired with Arm, the duo is almost unstoppable as far the underbelly of one small Irish town goes.
An early sequence detailing a hit Arm is instructed to perform is perfect in showcasing Rowland’s talents in storytelling and Jarvis’ acting talent. I wouldn’t mind seeing these two working together again, there’s a great, organic sense to their working. Calm With Horses is constantly engaging and interesting. It may not reinvent the crime flick, but does it have to when it’s this well executed? Benjamin John Powers’ music fits like a glove and while it’s perhaps a tad manipulative, it’s also hard to resist. Piers McGrail’s cinematography captures the beauty but also vast emptiness and nothingness of the Irish landscape.
There’s a fascinating marriage between the gentleness and brutality that Arm possesses. He’s often a well-intentioned man, stuck in violent circumstances and the film explores his moral compass and self-destructive behaviour. Arm isn’t a bad man per se, but an unfortunate one. He’s already in a slow tailspin by the time we meet him and while you root for him to be able to let go of the Devers clan and find some inner peace, there’s a sense of inevitability to the ending of the film.
This is a magnificently confident and impressive first feature for director Nick Rowland. It’s classically told tale of a man on the wrong side of law, but with a good heart with extra blood-drenched knuckles. The violence is brutal, but necessary for the narrative and Rowland makes us feel every punch in the gut, every kick of the boot. There’s weight and consequence to the violence and this is a better film for it. Calm With Horses is an edge-of-your-seat crime thriller but also a heart-breaking drama about a man’s inability to connect with his son and atone for his sins.
Calm With Horses is available to stream across digital platforms from April 27th