If you are running out of fresh, new films to watch on Netflix and Amazon Prime (and also, AppleTV+ and Disney+), then one of the other options for you is Calm with Horses, the directional debut for Nick Rowland, from a screenplay by Joseph Murtagh. The film is available from the usual streaming providers, including Google Play, Amazon and YouTube to rent and buy, from the cheapest price of £3.49.
The film is set in dark rural Ireland, in which the young ex boxer, Douglas “Arm” Armstrong (Cosmo Jarvis) is a feared enforcer for the drug-dealing Devers family. His devotion to the family, however, is divided; and this is made more complicated by him trying to be a good father to his autistic 5 year son, Jack, and his friendship with Jack’s mother, Ursula (Niamh Algar).
One of the most acclaimed films of the (to be fair, early) year so far, it fair to say that Calm with Horses is absolutely terrific. The film is a really emotional, hard-hitting drama that will leave you emotionally shattered by the end of it. It is also a really haunting portrait of a man who is properly torn between his personal and professional life.
That, for me, is the most successful element of this film. There have been countless dramas about a gangster caught between his criminal life and his personal life, and most of the time, they don’t do either of them successfully. There are some brilliant examples, obviously (like Goodfellas or Breaking Bad), but sometimes, it can feel like they don’t properly depict someone who is divided in his life.
One of the ways the film does this brilliantly is the supporting characters. In his personal life, he has Jack’s mother, Ursula, while on his criminal life, he has his best friend and partner in crime, Dymphna, played by Barry Keoughan. We really believe the connections that he has with both of these people, and his makes Arm’s divide even more heart-wrenching.
Also brilliant are these two supporting performances. Ursula is played by Algar, who has been an up and comer on the rise for the past few years, appearing in a variety of underrated projects, including the great television series, Pure (2019-present). While, Keoughan has been more of a mainstream actor, appearing in acclaimed movies like Dunkirk (2017), The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) and American Animals (2018), whilst working with iconic directors like Christopher Nolan and Yorgos Lanthimos. The two give so much depth to what could of been one-note characters, as each of them are also going through a bit of a divide, albeit in a smaller-scale way.
But, the film really belongs to Jarvis. The actor is fairly new to the scene, and was a musician prior to this, only appearing in some high-profile projects like Lady Macbeth (2016) and Peaky Blinders (2019). And, what is really accomplished is that he doesn’t feel like a new actor, he really commands the screen, and has real gravitas. He overall, gives a really heartbreaking, emotional performance which makes you like him and feel empathy for him all at once.
Other than the performances, the film is also really well shot. It has really gorgeous cinematography, and this makes the film seem very sophisticated and classy. In particular, the car chase sequences towards the end are also really well shot. Car chase sequences are often really hard to get right, as they can sometimes appear messy and noisy in their construction, but Calm with Horses gets it really right, and they never appear confusing or discombobulated.
With a plot that is quite miserable in it’s concept, the end result for the film is that it could have easily of been misery porn. However, it never feels like that, mainly because there is a small strand of black humour running through the film. This comes from the interactions that Arm and Dymphna have with various other characters, and it really works and is very effective.
Overall, Calm with Horses is really terrific. It shows us that everyone involved (from director, Rowland to stars, Jarvis, Keoghan and Algar) has a bright future ahead of them, and is just a solid, emotionally-wrenching drama that really clicks. I will definitely be looking at it during my run-down of the best films of the year.