When one grows violent, he has little or no knowledge of how to control that anger. His anger becomes his end. “Calm with Horses” starts from that uncontrollable rage that slowly transforms into something better and leads to its protagonist’s redemption. The film depicts a retired boxer, Douglas “Arm” Armstrong, who has a history of violence in the ring. To support his livelihood, he now works as a bouncer/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 by Douglas Armstrong (Cosmo Jarvis). With his hoarse voice, heavy breath, and violent actions on screen, the film quickly sets up the character and its tone. 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. Douglas used to box, but he was never knocked out. However, he hated the bruises that he had procured in the ring and was looking for a way out. That was when Dymphna offered to work for him and his two uncles, and convinced him that he would never face a single bruise in that business. Dymphna also let Arm stay with him, and the man believed it was a better deal than boxing, and thus accepted Dymphna’s offer and started working for the Devers family.
The conflict arrived on screen 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 in the opening sequence. 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 the test when Paudi asks Arm to finish off Fannigan.
Other than this violent business, Douglas Armstrong has a peaceful family with a special child diagnosed with autism. Arm faces a hard time coping with his own son because, having grown up in a ring, he has no emotions or empathy left, yet he is trying his best to connect and communicate. Ursula (Niamh Algar), mother of Arm’s son, needs his financial help to admit their son to a special school, because of which Arm is in urgent need of money, which further influences his decision to kill Fannigan.
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 is for this reason that Arm is so conflicted and torn apart when he is told to kill a man again. He keeps hearing from people around him that working in this shady business and being a brutal hitman is not what Douglas Armstrong is. He should not find his existence in violence but rather have a fresh start somewhere else. The thought keeps hovering over Arm’s mind. But will Douglas be able to save himself from committing the crime and live a peaceful life with his family?
‘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, and 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 thus decides to kill Arm. Paudi pulls a gun, and tries to shoot Arm, but fortunately he manages to run away. Arm reaches Hector’s place (Paudi’s brother) to take the money and leave the town, but he is severely bruised and shot. Hector runs away from the house, and Arm gets into a conversation with Marie, who recognizes Arm as the boxer who killed someone in the ring. Arm is informed by Marie.
“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. He gets content that his child will be able to get the education that he needs and as a father, he is more than happy. He finally drops a tear for the first time in the film and decides to rest in peace, while promising Ursula to talk the next day. When Paudi reaches there, he finds out that Arm is already dead.
“Calm with Horses” is a beautifully written film, shot stunningly by Piers McGrail, and the background score designed by Benjamin John Power further 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 he was 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 the arm needed a way out or a rest, maybe.
If you are inclined towards slow, visually stunning, and melodiously soothing cinema, then do watch this Irish crime drama film directed by 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.