Calm With Horses – Film Review
by Hugh Maguire
Director: Nick Rowland
Writer: Joe Murtagh (as Joseph Murtagh)
Stars: Ned Dennehy, Barry Keoghan, Niamh Algar
Many will probably hate this film. It is rough, aggressive, shocking and pervaded by a sense of imminent catastrophe. And then there are the violent moments, and what The New York Times described as a ‘Tarantino-esque climax’. Tarantino can be camp but there is certainly nothing camp here. Instead, there is a grim visceral quality reminding us of an Ireland where gangland feuding results in dismembered body parts deposited strategically across the city.
Set in a fictional Glanbeigh, Co Mayo, Calm with Horses, is no updated iteration of the Quiet Man. There will be no busloads coming to re-live a moment of charm. These are pubs you don’t want to go to and people you don’t want to meet. This is raw, urgent and timely – a harrowing insight into the lives of others, lives that occasionally thrust themselves into our daily consciousness.
Based on a novella by Mayo native, Colin Barrett, itself part of a much-lauded collection of short stories, Young Skins (2013), the story focusses on Douglas Armstrong or Arm (Cosmo Jarvis) the brooding, sometimes menacing and feared enforcer for the local drug-dealing Devers. Arm is a hard man with a soft centre. He is not only trapped in this small claustrophobic community but also trapped in the persona of enforcer. He tries to do right by the mother of his child, and their emotionally damaged five-year-old child himself, who only enjoys moments of calm and tranquillity in the company of horses, which gives us the title.
Sticking closely to Barrett’s short story, with a screenplay by Joe Murtagh, the film is a tremendous vote of confidence in new talent on screen. The late Eileen Battersby described Barrett’s writing as a bravura performance in which ‘he simply outwrites many of his peers with a chilling confidence’. This chill factor is brilliantly captured by Nick Rowland in his first feature debut as a director. Cosmo Jarvis, as the main character, carries the film and is the only non-Irish actor on screen. In a latter-day case of Hiberniores Hibernis ipsis (more Irish than the Irish themselves), he went native, living in the west for a stretch, to capture characteristics of accent and delivery which add greatly to his onscreen presence. Surrounded by the unstoppable Barry Keoghan, a culchie version of Love Hate, with convincing and moving support by an accomplished field including Niamh Algar and Ned Dennehy, the film should be compulsory, if uncomfortable, viewing.