The Irish crime drama The Shadow of Violence delivers a bare-knuckled blow to the heart thanks to a powerhouse performance by Cosmo Jarvis (Hunter Killer).
Originally titled Calm with Horses, the feature film directorial debut from Nick Rowland (the TV series Ripper Street) swings between dark and brutal to picturesque and poetic. Although Joe Murtagh’s (American Animals) somewhat derivative script follows the familiar footwork of the typical two-bit gangster drama, Jarvis and his co-stars prove to be heavy hitters who aren’t pulling any punches here.
Jarvis stars as Douglas “Arm” Armstrong, a former boxer who achieved minor greatness in rural Western Ireland before tragedy prompted him to give up the sport. More brawn than brains, Arm has since been working as the muscle for the Devers family, the vicious clan who controls the local drug trade. He’s the hard-fisted right-hand man to Dympna (the incessantly watchable Barry Keoghan, Dunkirk), who leads the up-and-coming generation of the blue-collar crime family.
Arm’s job mostly involves beating up wayward junkies and getting coked up with the Devers clan, which he considers his own family. The violence of his job contrasts sharply with his desire to be a good father to his son, Jack (Kiljan Moroney), a wide-eyed nonverbal youngster on the autism spectrum. Arm’s hopeful but worn-down ex-girlfriend Ursula (the arresting Niamh Algar, TV’s The Virtues) wants to move to Cork for a fresh start and special school for Jack, but she needs money and is reluctant to leave Arm behind, frequently reminding him that working as the Deverses’ enforcer has changed him.
When Fannigan (Liam Carney, Braveheart), an old Devers family connection, gets drunk and assaults Dympna’s teenage sister, the clan’s patriarchs – vengeful Hector (David Wilmot, The Guard) and sadistic Paudi (Ned Dennehy, TV’s Peaky Blinders) – declare that retribution must be meted out. That means order Arm to kill someone for the first time.
Although the story’s arc is familiar and practically fated, Rowland and Jarvis prove the one-two punch needed to give The Shadow of Violence a memorable and emotionally stunning climax.