Calm With Horses

I do like this sort of film when it’s done well, and director Nick Rowland’s stylishly tense treatment of Colin Barrett short story is certainly that.

We’re on the west Coast of Ireland, in a small town run by a dishevelled but dangerous criminal family called the Devvers. Their enforcer is a former county boxer called Douglas Armstrong, known simply as Arm – although he still uses his fists, too.

He’s played with hulking intensity by Cosmo Jarvis, who lets the loveliest of smiles play across his face sometimes. He’s bossed around by Barry Keogh’s weaselly Dympna, in a kind of Of Mice and Men relationship.

But Arm has a son by ex-lover Ursula. Jack is severely autistic and can’t make sense of the world. Neither can Arm, other than through violence, because love didn’t work for him. Although Ursula, played by the excellent Niamh Algar, might give him a chance to prove himself, if he can find some funds to get Jack into a special school.

Arm sets out to get his dues from the Devvers, but it doesn’t go well. Inevitably.

Backed by an atmospheric soundtrack from Blanck Mass, the film throbs with threat and with tenderness, never quite sure which will win out. Jarvis is magnetic in the role, a (literally) smashing performance. You never know what he’ll do, or how he’ll respond but somehow you always will him to do the best he can, even if it’s clear he’s about to do something very wrong.

There’s some great bantering Irish dialogue too, including the wonderful line uttered by an incidental layabout character sitting outside the Devvers’ house, when asked if he’s keeping busy. “Sure,” he shouts back, “I’m CEO of this fucking sofa.”