By Ali Moosavi.
Rowland and his cinematographer Piers McGrail provide some respite from the claustrophobic and washed-out colour scenes of violence….”
It is something of a dichotomy that such a beautiful, picturesque country as Ireland has been the setting for so many films with themes of violence, war, revolution and all things bloody. Whether they have touched on the Easter Rising (Ryan’s Daughter, 1970), The Irish War of Independence (The Informer, 1935; The Wind that Shakes the Barley, 2006), IRA (The Long Good Friday, 1980; The Crying Game, 1992; 71’, 2014) or gang violence (Bad Day for the Cut, 2017), violence and death have been part of the ingredients.
Director Nick Rowland’s feature film debut, The Shadow of Violence (AKA Calm with Horses), continues this trend. The central characters are a beefcake ex-boxer, Arm (Cosmo Jarvis) and a younger thug, Dympna (Barry Keoghan, who seems to be in everything these days!). They are not too unlike Lennie and George in Of Mice and Men. Rowland and screenwriter Joe Murtagh set their stalls early in a pre-credits prologue. A middle-aged man gets drunk in a house party and finds his way into the bed of a 14-year-old girl. Unfortunately for him, the girl belongs to the Devers family, one of the main gangs operating in that part of Ireland. So, he has to be punished and Arm belts and kicks the man as much as he can take. But this is just the beginning.
Arm could have been somebody. He has the body and the looks but is short on brains. Not having any skills apart from kicking and punching, he has been reduced to working as an enforcer for the Devers gang and sees no way out. The young Dympna, who is part of the Devers family, acts as his controller. Arm still cares for his ex, Lisa (Niamh Algar) and their son, who is mentally handicapped. Lisa needs money to put their son in a special school. Can Arm somehow find the money and how far would he go to get it?
Trouble is that the head of the Devers family (Ned Dennehy – Charlie Strong in Peaky Blinders) thinks that the man who violated the Devers girl was not punished enough. Arm is given the task of performing the ultimate punishment on him. Is Arm up to it? Can his loyalty to his crime family overcome his concerns over morality and how he would be judged by his family? Though Arm looks as masculine as can be, he has a soft centre which is evident in the scenes with his son. His sensitive side is further demonstrated in a scene where he is encouraged to ride a horse by Lisa’s current boyfriend, who is a horse trainer. Arm finds beauty and relief from his dark violent world when riding the horse. There is also a touching scene of Arm talking on the phone to Lisa, which reminded me of the conversation scene between Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski in Paris Texas (1984).
Rowland and his cinematographer Piers McGrail provide some respite from the claustrophobic and washed-out colour scenes of violence, with beautiful vistas of Irish landscape, shot in wide angle and vivid colours. An exciting car chase also provides a welcome diversion from the visceral violence. A significant contributor to the sustained tension in the film is the electronic music by Benjamin Power/Blanck Mass. The Shadow of Violence, executive produced by Michael Fassbender, is another tough and violent Irish film and an impressive feature film debut for Nick Rowland. He presents questions about love, loyalty, moral values and violence, while maintaining his grip on the narrative and in the process has elicited acting of real conviction from his cast.
Ali Moosavi has worked in documentary television and has written for Film Magazine (Iran), Cine-Eye (London), and Film International (Sweden). He contributed to the second volume of the The Directory of World Cinema: Iran (Intellect, 2015).