The next film I’m going to be looking at in this series is Calm With Horses, recommended by Andy Noble. It is a bang-up little Irish film that never feels destined to end well, yet is still full of the charm that indie projects from this part of the world are never short of. There was a lot here that I liked, even if it was packed into a slightly bigger box than required.
Calm With Horses is a film driven by a touching central performance
Cosmo Jarvis paints a tragic picture as his character, Douglas ‘Arm’ Armstrong. You really feel the turmoil that seems to have followed him his whole life. His perpetual struggle is so hard to stomach because underneath it all, he is ultimately a good guy. The problem is his path was clouded early in life and he never managed to escape the shadows. This was exacerbated by the people who picked him up when he was down, making it impossible for Arm to get out of his own way and be the man he was capable of being. He couldn’t see the good in himself until it was too late.
There were definitely two sides to Arm – violent thug and gentle giant. A constant inner battle between the good and the bad was raging inside him, and I think this was explored well within the film. Arm has a son, Jack, who is on the autistic spectrum, and many of the moments that portrayed Arm’s most definitive qualities radiated from that relationship. It was like Jack could sense which part of Arm was winning the war at any given time. He was a compass in showing which direction his father was headed in. It was an interesting way of pinpointing Arm’s journey, and also showed that he was a lot more in tune with his son than many gave him credit for. Yes, it highlighted some of his worse periods as a character, but always in a way reinforced this idea that he was a good man underneath it all.
Knitted together with beautiful scenery
I’ve always found that a staple of Irish cinema is the surrounding landscapes. You really do get some lovely-looking films. Calm With Horses takes you on tour of beautiful rural Galway. There are some stunning shots that fully demonstrate the character of the Irish film industry as a whole.
Of course, there is another thing that always has an extra something special about it in Irish films – the dialogue. More specifically, those ‘nothing’ conversations; discussions between characters that never really lead anywhere and have no impact on the overall story. There is a fine example of such an exchange when Arm and the boys are talking about criminal hideouts. It is so meaningless, and yet so entertaining, and also so typical of films from this part of the world to include it and it not feel like a waste of time. I think if you’re Irish or have Irish family, it’s definitely the kind of conversation that you’ve at least bared witness to, if not actively partaken in, so it adds a real sort of authenticity to the film as well.
The only real issue I had with the film was the pacing. At times it felt like it was dragging its feet a bit whilst conveying the full hopelessness of Arm’s situation. It’s not as though it didn’t know how to inject life into proceedings. Changes in tone and a phenomenal car chase proved that it knew exactly how to do that. I suppose it just had a vibe that suggested it was never really going to end well; that Arm was not someone who could create good for himself. As such the film never quite managed to shift its slightly sluggish tempo.
Whilst not perfect, it’s an easy film to like
Despite an overall downtrodden energy, Calm With Horses is an intriguing watch. It takes a character whose life is a seemingly constant downward spiral and sews seeds that show he could make a decent go of things himself if he could just get out of his own way for a minute. Of course, in the case of Arm, that is a big ‘if’. Even though you have a rough idea of how things are going to turn out, it’s a film that keeps you connected through the quality of its production, which makes it easy to forgive its shortcomings in the form or pacing.
Seeing as you’re here…
Why not check out my thoughts on the Rocky franchise – another recommendation courtesy of Film Twitter?