Toronto 2019: Calm With Horses

Barry Keoghan and Cosmo Jarvis in Calm With Horses. Courtesy of TIFF.

Calm With Horses is certainly one of Toronto’s strongest contenders among the films that are not playing in the Gala or Special Presentations programs.

Horses may appear in the title but they don’t really have much to do with the film’s plot.  Oh, we’ll get some glimpses here and there but if you’re expecting them to play a major role, you’re going to be disappointed.

Douglas “Arm” Armstrong was once a boxer but now he’s the Devers family enforcer, mostly working for eldest son Dympna (Barry Keoghan).  Whenever you see him, you better rethink what you’re doing because bad things are about to happen.  Take Fannigan (Liam Carney), for example.  We meet him during one of the film’s opening scenes and it very much sets the tone.  When Arm isn’t enforcing for the family, he’s just trying to help raise his son with ex-girlfriend Ursula Dory (Niahm Algar).  Their son, Jack (Kiljan Tyr Moroney), is somewhere on the autism spectrum.  A simple trip to the carnival turns into a nightmare for Arm.

Anyway, Arm and Dympna get drugs from Dympna’s uncles, Hector (David Wilmot) and Paudi (Ned Dennehy).  Both live on farms and let’s just say that things can get rather interesting.

On the outside looking in, Calm With Horses is a crime thriller but once you get deeper into the film, it’s about so much more than that.  For example, the film touches on themes of loyalty.  Everything changes when the family orders Arm to kill Fannigan.  This request puts Arm in somewhat of a pickle.  Arm wants to be a good father but the Devers are making this seemingly impossible.  Because of his past, Ursula doesn’t want to be around Arm going forward.  It is in the best interests for Ursula and Jack to get as far away as possible.  Nothing comes easy for Arm.  Not at all.

Cosmo Jarvis turns in a strong performance as Arm as does Niahm Algar as Ursula.  The small things come through very well on the screen.  I don’t enough enough good things to say about Barry Keoghan.  While he was in 2017’s Dunkirk in a supporting role, he broke out in a big way later that year with his portrayal of Martin in The Killing of a Sacred Deer.  If you ask me, that role belongs in the list of the greatest cinematic villains in history.  Anyway, Barry has a way of escaping into a role and this film is no different.  We can still feel his presence during scenes where we find him in the background.

The film also captures some of the beautiful scenery in Ireland especially during the driving scenes.  It’s something that I’ve come to expect from films with Irish settings.  That being said, the scenery never ceases to amaze me even if Glanbeigh is a fictional town (but filmed in Kilkee).

The film is well-directed by Nick Rowland.  Joe Murtagh’s script is based on the short story by Colin Barrett.  There’s a Coen Brothers-esque vibe going on with the story.  Moreover, the filmmakers choose not to make this film look like the typical indie gangster movie.  This is a very smart decision to their credit because there’s something beautiful about Calm With Horses.

Calm With Horses is a film that is definitely worth seeking out.

DIRECTOR:  Nick Rowland
SCREENWRITER:  Joe Murtagh
CAST:  Cosmo Jarvis, Barry Keoghan, Niahm Algar, Ned Dennehy, Kiljan Tyr Moroney, Bríd Brennan, Simone Kirby, Anthony Welsh, and David Wilmot

Calm With Horses holds its world premiere during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival in the Discovery program. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.