Douglas (Cosmo Jarvis) is a former amateur boxer who has fallen down on his luck after a life-changing match and falls into the world of the Devers, led by Dympna (Barry Keoghan) and Paudi (Ned Dennehy). An enforcer/equaliser supreme, he gets the job done when no-one else can but the life of crime is taking its toll, not least on his young boy who he had with his former girlfriend Ursula (Niamh Algar) who suffers from learning difficulties. Determined to make amends before his son moves away, Douglas is faced with escaping the vice-like grip of the criminal underworld that just won’t let him go.
It’s a story we have seen before countless times across different genres and stories but what makes Calm With Horses feel vibrant and new is in its performances, cinematography, and score, all of which combine to create an experience that has a real freshness to it, luring you in almost immediately and never letting you go from both its tense moments and it’s tender ones, with poise, grace, and aplomb.
Nick Rowland, making his feature directorial debut brings pathos and thoughtfulness to proceedings alongside screenwriter Joe Murtagh that you may not be expecting, hitting harder than any punch landed in one of the film’s many brawl-like sequences. Ably supporting him is the extraordinary work of cinematographer Piers McGrail, who captures everything wonderfully, bathing the Irish streets in a sumptuous lushness; and Benjamin John Power’s remarkable score that will surely be on many people’s best of the year list come the end of December.
Those aforementioned performances, though, are what drives this one and across the board, the company assembled here is nothing short of excellent, with Cosmo Jarvis leading from the front. After his magnificent supporting turn in Lady Macbeth in 2016, the actor is equally impeccable as Douglas here: a force of nature in his extra-curricular activities, it’s in the quiet, more somber moments as he wrestles with guilt, love, and compassion when there seemed to none left in his life is where he excels and alongside Algar’s beautifully measured turn, the two are electrifying throughout.
Those wanting Calm With Horses to be a hard-edged, ferocious film about crime and brutality will certainly get their monies worth but the film is so much more than that: a touching, compassionate look at family, hope and toxic masculinity that feels pertinent and important in equal measure. Easily one the year’s true hidden gems.
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Drama | Ireland, 2019 | 15 | 13th March 2020 (UK)| Altitude Films | Dir. Nick Rowland | Cosmo Jarvis, Ned Dennehy, Barry Keoghan, Niamh Algar , Anthony Welsh,