Nick Rowland (director)
13 March 2020 (released)
11 March 2020
The violence at the start goes some way towards setting the overall grim and grimy tone of the film but there are delicate nuances and emotions intertwined throughout that make it much more interesting and rewarding.
Doug ‘Arm’ Armstrong (Cosmo Jarvis) is a local ex-boxer and now fist for hire. He’s a dominating figure who knows what his job is and what to do. Nothing more so when a member of a local criminal gang Fannigan (Liam Carney) oversteps over the line with the boss, he’s there to meet out the justice. Which he does in a cold methodical manner all the more vicious with the victim sitting there waiting for his ‘punishment’.
Arm’s other responsibility is to his son Jack (Kiljan Tyr Moroney) and to some extent his estranged partner Ursula (Niamh Algar) whom her tries to please with the delivery of a TV he’s just pinched from the victim. Well-meant as it is, it’s not welcome and Ursula tells him in no uncertain terms. The added complication is that his son Jack is autistic and requires special needs that try as he might Arm cannot quite grasp and understand.
Jack has therapy through the local horse-riding club which Arm does understand on an emotional level, though he himself doesn’t ride until later in the film. However Ursula while appreciating that, wants Jack to get specialist help and the only way to do that is leave the town. A town that is riddled with criminality controlled by the Devers family who have poisoned her reputation through malicious gossip.
To complicate matters the Devers elders Paudi and Hector (Ned Dennehy and David Wilmot respectively) have decided that a beating is not enough and want someone either Arm or his boss Dympna (Barry Keoghan) to deal with it. It’s not a request, an order and how Arm deals with it has repercussions across the board.
Calm with Horses is hands down one of the best films so far this year and likely to be in contention for the top 10 by the end of it. How accurate a portrayal of rural Ireland it is, should be judged by the rural Irish. But taken as a drama it weaves a complex tapestry of frustrations and ambition with debut director Nick Rowland and writer Joe Murtagh (adapted from a short story by Colin Barrett) exploring what appears to be the endemic boredom of the town’s residents; copiously drinking and taking drugs, with a casual acceptance of their lot and subjugation to criminality.
Ursula, weary of the town and its people wants more for herself and Jack. Doug is in something of a conundrum with little ambition to do much for himself and loyalty to his adoptive family but wanting the best for his son.
It’s a tour de force performance from Jarvis in a very complicated role that requires some delicacy, handling the extremes of the character as well as the torment of the decisions that he is forced to make. The villains of the piece are genuinely, believably nasty and there’s no sense that Dennehy and Wilmot are hamming things up. No less impressive is Algar who looking to do the best for herself and her son is still deeply conscious of Arms role in his life and could still have some residual feelings for him. There’s room for humour too as seen in an idiotic chemical fuelled conversation about a robbery and where to escape to.
It’s a bleakly beautiful film encapsulating the drudgery of local life, the cold spectral streets of the town and terraces set against sweeping images of stunning natural landscapes. It’s a very assured debut from Rowland and bodes well for the future.