Barry Keoghan and Cosmo Jarvis shine in gritty Irish crime drama Calm With Horses

Nick Rowland’s directorial feature debut takes us to rural Ireland, where a morally conflicted ex-boxer turned drug gang enforcer questions his loyalty when asked to make his first hit.

By Manchester's Finest | 12 March 2020

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Produced by Michael Fassbender’s DMC Film and Film 4, Calm With Horses is an unwavering debut feature film from director Nick Rowlands.

Despite a number of cliches prevalent in an infinite number of crime dramas (namely, the morally conflicted tough guy with an ex-girlfriend and child who wants to ‘get out of the game’), Calm With Horses delivers some truly edge-of-your-seat tension and convincing tragedy.

Douglas ‘Arm’ Armstrong (Cosmo Jarvis) is a former county-level boxer known by the locals for accidentally killing one of his opponents. A thick and towering unit of a man, he has fallen in with the Dever crime family, who use him as their muscle.

Dympna Dever (Barry Keoghan), the upcoming alpha male, keeps him in check through emotional manipulation. “You’re my brother” he tells him, whilst simultaneously feeding him keys of cocaine.

However, when asked to kill for the first time, Douglas is torn between his suffocating loyalty to the Devers and his undying love for his ex-girlfriend Ursula (Niamh Algar) and son Jack, who has autism and needs expensive special needs schooling.

The violent and intense soundscape and dim, grey-blue lighting of scenes where Douglas is on the job sharply contrast with the lush green countryside and sun-kissed fields where his five-year-old son goes horse riding; his only real respite from the gritty underworld threatening to swallow him whole.

The central performances from Keoghan and Jarvis are absolutely the best things about this film. The somewhat predictable plot is made much more poignant and dramatic than it might look on paper by their performances, clearly well guided by a director with a clear vision.

Keoghan is perhaps one of the most exciting young actors of his generation after turning in memorable performances in The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Dunkirk, and Jarvis – whose performance of a physically powerful yet vulnerable man stands out – has even been compared to none other than Marlon Brando after success in a number of indie films and Peaky Blinders.

Macho violence is, of course, central throughout the film. “I don’t think violence is the work of hateful men,” Douglas narrates in the film’s opening, “sometimes it’s just the way a fella makes sense of the world.”

As he brings his girlfriend a stolen plasma TV or holds his crying son, his bruised and bloodied fists are a reminder of his day job.

Calm With Horses will be released in UK cinemas on 13 March. Book your tickets to catch it at HOME Cinema here.