Calm With Horses
Set in the rural west of Ireland Calm with Horses is on the face of it a gritty realistic tale, in line with the Ken Roach’s of the world, yet stylistically it possesses a haunting otherworldly quality.
Arm, played by Cosmo Jarvis, is a meat head of a man, former boxer, tough yet vulnerable. Traumatised in the boxing ring he has turned to a life of crime as the muscle for the local family of amateur gangster; the Denvers. The film opens with him punching the living daylights out of a man, for supposedly touching one of the Denvers’ young girls. The beating is dealt out with constraint. The revolting boss of the Denver’s, brilliantly portrayed by Ned Dennehy, tells the young Arm that he has not taken the matter far enough, to devastating consequences. Alongside this Arm is trying to come to terms with his ex-wife and their autistic son. This family story is the counterbalance to the more brutal violence of the film.
Although this is ostensibly a gangster movie, this is a far world from the likes of Guy Richie or Scorsese. The gangsters are horrible irredeemable characters, without warmth or charm; there is no glamorisation of this grimey underworld. Instead, the film is much more of a human story about the vulnerability of our protagonist, and his inability to get on in this world.
Vibrant colours, wide lens shots that blur the edges of the set, and a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack give the film a dream like quality. Arm is a man of few words, but Cosmo Jarvis manages to give him great depth whilst saying almost nothing, he is both victim and victimiser, brutal, yet insecure, he loves his son, but lacks the emotional tools to bond with him. Our sympathies are very much with him, despite his morally complex character. They are also with his long-suffering ex-wife, beautifully played by Niamh Algar, who’s intense but understated performance gives the film its emotional heart.
It’s a beautifully sad story of redemption, skillfully told, and stylishly delivered from Debut director Nick Rowland, I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.