When one grows violent, he has little or no knowledge on how to channelize that anger. His anger becomes his end. Calm with Horses starts from that blindness that leads to its protagonist’s redemption. It depicts a retired boxer, Douglas ‘Arm’ Armstrong, with a history of violence in the ring. To support his existence, he now works as a bouncer or a hitman for a drug-dealing family, the Devers.
“Don’t go thinking all violence is the work of hateful men. Sometimes, it’s just the way a fella makes sense of his world.”Douglas ‘Arm’ Armstrong
Calm with Horses begins with a gripping voice-over of Douglas Armstrong (Cosmo Jarvis). With his hoarse voice, heavy breath, and violent act on screen, the film quickly sets up the character and the mood. Douglas works for his buddy, Dymphna (Barry Keoghan), a punk-looking guy who is a cousin to the town’s drug-dealing family, the Devers family. Arm used to ring (boxing) but he was never knocked out, however, he was always bruised. That was when Dymphna offered him to work for him and his two uncles, and he would never face a bruise in that business. Dymphna also let Arm stay with him. Thinking of it was a better deal, Arm accepted Dymphna’s offer and started working for the troublesome family.
The conflict arose, when Paudi, the senior member of the family asked Dymphna and Arm to kill a man. It was the same man, Fannigan whom Arm smacked mercilessly. Fannigan used to work for Denver’s but on a party night, he got uncontrollably drunk and raped Dymphna’s younger sister, Charlie who was just 14 years old. Arm’s loyalty is put to test when Paudi asks Arm to finish off Fannigan.
Other than this bloody business, Douglas Armstrong holds a peaceful family with a young mentally challenged boy. Arm faces a hard time coping with his own son because growing up in a ring, he has no emotions or empathy left. Yet, he is trying his best. Ursula (Niamh Algar), mother to Arm’s son needs his financial help to admit their son to a special school. In short, Arm needs money, and that influences him to kill the man, Fannigan. But he isn’t sure.
Arm’s history of violence and guilt forced him to leave the ring. He confesses later that he killed a man in the ring. It was for this reason why Arm is so conflicted and torn apart when he is told to kill again. He keeps hearing from people that working in this shady business and being an enforcer, is not what Douglas Armstrong is. He should not find his existence in violence and rather have a fresh start. The thought keeps hovering over Arm’s mind.
“You know all this stuff with the Denvers, right? That’s not you.”Ursula
‘Calm with Horses’ Ending Explained
Calm with Horses makes you fall in love with this rock-solid man on screen. In literature or in films, the most beautiful characters are those who are trying to put some effort into something. Usually, we see an underdog trying to fight against the world but in Calm with Horses, there is a man who is learning to bend and blend in. He is trying to become empathetic, have emotions, become a responsible father and husband. But his past keeps pulling him back into the darkness. Paudi finds out that Arm never killed Fannigan but instead, let him run away. Paudi hates lies and disloyalty in the family and he wants to kill Arm. Paudi fires on Arm, but he fortunately escapes. Arm reaches Hector’s place (Paudi’s brother) to take the money and run away, but he severely bruised and shot. Hector runs away and Arm gets in conversation with Marie who recognizes Arm as the boxer who killed someone in the ring. Marie tells Arm,
“Whatever mess it is you’re in, son, no amount of money will make it right. Whoever you gave it to, you’ll be involving them all in this.”
In those final moments, Arm realizes he has been running away for too long and his actions will complicate things further for his son and Ursula. He tells Marie, “nothing can be turned back” and asks her to leave as Paudi and Dymphna would be coming there soon. Arm falls on a sofa and makes a final call to Ursula who tells him that she has got the job and money has been arranged for their child. Arm drops a tear for the first time and rests in peace, promising Ursula to talk the next day. When Paudi reaches there, he finds Arm dead.
Calm with Horses is a beautifully written film, shot stunningly by Piers McGrail and music-filled by Benjamin John Power, heightens each emotion. It is a narrative that tracks the redemption of a violent man and allows him to achieve peace which he had been hunting since a teenager when he first killed a person in the ring. The trauma had been lying deep under that hard-hulk skin for too long and Arm needed a way out. The reference of the title, calm with horses symbolizes the same thing, I guess, a horse trying to calm himself.
If you are inclined towards slow, visually stunning, and melodiously soothing Cinema, then do watch this Irish Crime Drama film directed by the debutant director, Nick Rowland. Nick has made the film with all his heart, art, and soul and each bit of the film lauds his efforts. The car and action sequences he shot, are something even established directors fail to shoot with such visual effectiveness. It is not just VFx, it’s his vision. Made with love, I hope, Calm with Horses will work for everyone.
Calm with Horses is streaming on Netflix.
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