The Shadow of Violence/Calm With Horses is a hugely impressive directorial debut from Nick Rowland. Adapted by Joesph Murtaugh from a short story by Colin Barrett, this Irish crime drama packs a serious punch which vigorously pulls the viewer into its world. Set in rural Ireland, Calm With Horses follows Arm (Cosmo Jarvis), an ex-boxer turned enforcer for the shady Devers family as he attempts to balance his criminality with helping raise his autistic son. Arm must decide where his loyalties lie when he’s asked to kill – will he take the side of his ‘adopted’ family or his own flesh and blood?
Punchy from its very opening, this Michael Fassbender produced drama works on every single level. Calm With Horses features an array of performances which are off-the-chart exceptional. Cosmo Jarvis is a revelation as the former boxer turned enforcer, a man haunted by his past and tortured by his present. It’s a muscular turn, which balances fury with tenderness. It’s even more impressive when you take into account Jarvis’ flawless Irish accent.
Barry Keoghan also impresses as Dymphna, the youngest member of the Devers clan, who constantly has Arm at his beck and call. Keoghan continues to be an actor who delivers great performance after great performance and this is another brilliant turn. Niamh Algar also stands-out as Arm’s frustrated ex-girlfriend, who is eager to make sure that her son gets the best care possible, even if that means moving as far away from Arm as possible.
As brutal as it is touching, Rowland’s film doesn’t hold back on the violence. However, it also contains some hugely emotional human moments – we see Arm is a good man and father, but that he’s just lost his way. This modestly budgeted film features a wonderful score from Benjamin John Power (aka Blanck Mass) and some great visuals from cinematography Piers McGrail. McGrail gives the bleak rural backdrop of Ireland’s west coast a claustrophobic quality, which help us understand Arm’s internal struggle. These impressive technical credits coupled with Joesph Murtaugh’s well-honed script give Calm With Horses a rich poetic tone.
Calm With Horses is a film which gets under your skin. Well-crafted writing, strong direction and impressive performances mean that Nick Rowland’s film feels tangible in the real world. It’s a rich piece of story-telling about the need to escape to a better life. It’s like a classic Bruce Springsteen song, filtered through the prism of the Irish west. Calm With Horses will stay with you – and isn’t that what all great films should do?