Douglas ‘Arm’ Armstrong has become the feared enforcer for the drug-dealing Devers family, whilst also trying to be a good father. Torn between these two families, Arm’s loyalties are tested when he is asked to kill for the first time.
‘Calm With Horses’ was one of many films impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, with its release in UK cinemas halted suddenly as a result of the lockdown and cinema closures. It’s now came to streaming services (BFI Player is where I watched it) and I’d highly recommend seeking it out. ‘Calm With Horses’ is the debut feature from Nick Rowland and it’s an impressively assured piece of work that brings a freshness to a familiar tale of gangland troubles. Set in a remote part of Ireland on the coast, the film follows an ex-boxer (Cosmo Jarvis) who works as an enforcer for the Devers family, a criminal enterprise that rules over the local area. When one job proves too much for Arm (Jarvis), it leads to a serious of consequences that threaten his life and that of his estranged family.
‘Calm With Horses’ starts off fairly predictably but it really started to work its way under my skin and I found myself far more emotionally invested in Arm’s story than I initially anticipated. That’s largely down to Cosmo Jarvis, a relative newcomer who I’ve only seen in the excellent ‘Lady Macbeth’ (Florence Pugh’s breakout role) before, who is a real force of nature in the central role. His performance conveys the sense of a man who has closed himself off to anyone and everyone, wounded and troubled by reasons we can’t initially comprehend. He wasn’t always like this, so says his ex-partner, who cares for their autistic son, and we will discover that something happened in his past to make Arm the way he is. Jarvis’s performance reminded me of the Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts in the way he can embody a sense of wounded masculinity (‘Disorder’, ‘Rust & Bone’) where a strong physical exterior masks the pain their characters feel inside.
Around Jarvis, the filmmakers create a toxic environment where there’s an edge to every interaction, the sense that things can and will go wrong at any given point. That’s aided by an immersive score and strong casting for the supporting roles, with Barry Keoghan a particular highlight, proving once again his credentials to play unpredictable characters after ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’. I thought ‘Calm With Horses’ was an excellent, grim and unrelenting drama that packs a greater emotional punch than you’d expect from the opening sequences, largely thanks to assured direction and a standout performance from Cosmo Jarvis.
Directed By: Nick Rowland
Starring: Cosmo Jarvis, Barry Keoghan, Niamh Alger, David Wilmot and Ned Dennehy