Calm With Horses Review

Calm With Horses
Rural Ireland, and former boxer Arm (Cosmo Jarvis) is a heavy for crime family the Devers, while trying to support his ex-wife Ursula (Niamh Algar) and five-year-old autistic son Jack (Kiljan Moroney). When he fails to carry out a hit for his employers, he puts himself and his family at risk.

by Ian Freer |
Published on
Release Date:

13 Mar 2020

Original Title:

Calm With Horses

A kind of West Ireland Mean Streets, Calm With Horses treads familiar ground — the push and pull between domestic happiness and a life of crime — but Nick Rowland’s feature debut thrives on strong performances, especially from lead Cosmo Jarvis, and a palpable sense of tension and simmering violence. The result is a portrait of trapped lives that, if it doesn’t completely work, bodes good things for the future.

Calm With Horses

Jarvis is Douglas ‘Arm’ Armstrong, a former boxer caught between two worlds. Now working as the muscle for the local crime family, the Devers, he is in thrall of livewire Dympna (Barry Keoghan) who himself is beholden to his psychotic uncle Paudi (Ned Dennehy), the family capo dei capi. Yet Arm also wants to please and provide for his ex-wife Ursula (Niamh Algar) and their five-year-old autistic son Jack (Kiljan Moroney) — Ursula is considering moving to Cork to put Jack in a special-needs school, which means money. The engine for the story revolves around the molesting of a teenage Devers girl by a family friend and the subsequent retribution which lands at Arm’s door to deliver. When he fails to follow through, he becomes the enemy of the vicious clan, and puts Ursula and Jack in danger.

The film’s ace is Jarvis. He has something of Michael Fassbender about him.

In some ways, Calm With Horses — the title refers to the only place Jack can remain peaceful — falls between the two stools of drama and thriller. But Rowland and writer Joe Murtagh find a nice absurdist streak — Arm doing his enforcing saddled with a stolen widescreen TV, a funny riff on heading south to Mexico — that occasionally pierces the Sturm und Drang. Rowland’s filmmaking, from jump cuts to impressive oppressive sound design, keys you into the edginess and despair that engulfs the characters. For the most part, the mood hangs like a low cloud, the vividly realised bleakness amped up by Blanck Mass’ foreboding electronic score.

While Keoghan (Dunkirk, American Animals) continues his impressive career trajectory as the vile Dympna, drip-feeding Arm with bile against Ursula, and Algar (Shane Meadows’ The Virtues) perfectly etches a character with enough smarts and moxie to find a way out of the hell hole, the film’s ace is Jarvis. Best known as the lover from Lady Macbeth, he has something of Michael Fassbender about him (who is on producing duties here), a forceful screen presence, stunning in a key moment that plays out entirely on his face. When the film devolves into more traditional gangster flick conventions, Jarvis keeps it honest.

Calm With Horses never finds a successful balance between character and genre tropes but creates an effective mood and a strong showcase for rising stars Barry Keoghan, Niamh Algar and in particular Cosmo Jarvis.

Related Articles

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us