- Film & TV
- 12 Mar 20
Former boxer is torn between family and crime in Irish drama.
Masculinity, loyalty and family lie at the heart of Nick Rowland’s crime drama, adapted by Joe Murtagh from a Colin Barrett story. Cosmo Jarvis, unrecognisable from his role as the cocky love interest in Lady Macbeth, plays Douglas ‘Arm’ Armstrong, a former boxer who has received too many harsh blows in his lifetime. All muscle and shaved head, but with the downcast air of a wounded animal, Douglas is at once tormented and tormenting. He has become the enforcer for the vicious Devers clan, who deal in drugs, violence and intimidation, and are led by the sociopathic Paudi (Ned Dennehy).
Paudi’s nephew Dymphna (Barry Keoghan) is desperate to prove himself, and has an unbreakable hold over Arm, ordering him to beat people to a pulp and pushing him to get high. Dymphna constantly tells Arm that they’re family – but Arm actually has a real family that his relationship with the Devers is endangering. His five-year-old son Jack (Kiljan Moroney) is on the autism spectrum, and Douglas’ ex Ursula (Niamh Algar) is determined to get him into a special school. Douglas is torn between wanting to be a better father and wanting to keep his distance so Jack and Ursula are safe – but good decisions have never been his strong suit.
The male-centred tale of drugs and crime is not a new narrative for the Irish screen, and Calm With Horses can feel familiar and conventional. But Rowland’s strengths lie in character study and tension, and he creates an effectively bleak atmosphere that hovers over the small rural town, while an electronic score adds to the oppressive ambience. Keoghan is mercurial and menacing, and though Algar’s role is underdeveloped, she exudes intelligence and empathy. Jarvis is a compelling presence onscreen, bringing a clumsy warmth and innocence to his role, so that even as he beats men to a pulp, you’re rooting for him to escape his no-exit existence.
As moments of brutal, bloody violence contrast with scenes of Douglas trying to connect with his young son, there’s a sense that both feel trapped, misunderstood, and desperate for a safe haven.