Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Review: Calm With Horses

Calm With Horses
Cert: 15 / 100 mins / Dir. Nick Rowland / Trailer

A few words then, on Nick Rowland's impressive feature debut, Calm With Horses. Adapted for the screen by his regular collaborator Joe Murtagh from Colin Barrett's short story of the same name, it's a tale set in present-day rural Ireland, as drug dealer Dymphna Devers (Barry Keoghan) rises through the ranks of his appalling criminal family with the aid of his enforcer and ex-boxer, Arm (Cosmo Jarvis). Arm has drifted into this life through a series of poor choices rather than malice, and struggles to reconcile his 'duties' under Dymphna with the person he'd rather be. Keeping a watchful, if disapproving, eye over this is Arm's ex-partner Ursula (Niamh Algar), struggling to raise their son Jack. When Ursula raises the prospect of her moving to Cork with Jack, things come to a head, not least because the Devers clan want to claim Arm as one of their own...

Jarvis is spellbinding in the central role; the brute-strength of his physical character is a given, but there's also innocence without gullibility, sensititvity without weakness and a sense of being lost but without hopelessness. Algar is a fantastic prompt and foil for this as Ursula, pushing Arm forward and making him challenge himself rather than just laying down the law in a more linear sense, while also holding enough back to be a fully-fledged character in her own right. Keoghan grows apace, happy to play crucial support while filling out his own part more quietly.

The story is intricate yet straightforward. Meticulously structured, the film fires toward its inevitable (yet delicately handled) conclusion without telegraph or cliché. This also features the most affecting car chase sequence in living memory, purely because of how stripped-down it is.

Aided by Benjamin John Power's hypnotic score, cinematographer Piers McGrail manages to make even the most breathtaking landscape a gorgeously bleak postcard of desolation and spiritual abandonment. This film plays like Twin Town on Craggy Island but with none of the inherent silliness of either, just a bleakly cathartic rage.

A quietly powerful treatise on bravado, revenge and misguided loyalty, Calm With Horses is one of the most beautiful things I never need to see again.

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Blue Ruin, Black '47.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
It is, although at present you can't.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Yes, Calm With Horses will be available on digital platforms from April 27 2020.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It could well be.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
That's possible.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: That prisoner from Rogue One is in this.

Well, I mean according to IMDB he is. The Wookieepedia entry backs this up, but if you look at the Wook-page for 'Wobani prisoner' then that dude is clearly played by a different actor, even though the same article also references Ned Dennehy by name. I suspect Ned's original performance was lost in the reshoots, as happened with that of Paul Putner (Paul's in the Rogue One Visual Dictionary, that shit counts).

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
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