‘Calm With Horses’, a project four years in the making, is a brooding crime drama, that fully deserves to gain cult status.
The film is based on a short story from Colin Barrett’s ‘Young Skins’ collection; it caught Director Nick Rowland’s eye on two counts: first the claustrophobic world of its characters and second, it could be brought to the big screen with the modest budget at his disposal.
Protagonist Douglas Armstrong (Cosmos Jarvis) known throughout the film as ‘Arm’ has difficult a decision to make. His life is at a crossroad: should he support his ex-partner and five-year-old son or perform a hit for the criminal Devers family?
Nick Rowland stays faithful to Colin Barrett’s wish to reflect the characters in his stories with respect. He tells their story through their eyes and doesn’t patronise them or the audience.
Singer-songwriter and actor, Jarvis is remarkable in his portrayal of Arm – very much like a young Robert DeNiro and Russell Crow rolled into one. Using very few words he consummately convinces the viewer to side with him as he hurtles from one challenge to the next.
Cosmos Jarvis’s performance (as Arm) is only matched by that given by Barry Keoghan who plays Dympna, who takes the slow-witted Arm under his wing. Keoghan was considered very early for this role and delivers a menacingly understated portrayal of life on the wrong side of the tracks. His Dympna is charismatic, delicately balancing brotherly charm with a gangland mentality. It’s no accident that most of the film’s dark humour arrives on screen when he’s present. As a result, the film careers from fable to thriller with refreshing ease.
The reference to horses (in the title) comes from Ursula, played by Niamh Algar, Arm’s ex with whom he has a son with autism. She’s what remains of Arm’s past and uses every to remind him he’s not the brutal hired hand the Devers have painted him to be. Ursula is saving; applying for jobs; and may even have a new love interest; in short, she has a ‘life plan’ and sees no reason why Arm can’t also escape his demons. Riding horses (and developing a calmness around them) is the metaphor that links Arm, an adult who ‘had’ difficulties as child to his son, who has his own difficulties.
‘Calm With Horses’ is a beautifully acted and violent parable of modern life, set in an unforgiving environment. Definitely a gem worth watching.★ ★ ★ ★