The Shadow of Violence
by George Wolf
Just how Irish is The Shadow of Violence?
Well, it’s got enough of its Irish up that hearing “Whiskey in the Jar” play on a barroom jukebox feels like being part of an inside joke. And that’s about the only funny business in a film that fuses multiple inspirations into one searingly intimate rumination on a life defined by violence.
Douglas “Arm” Armstrong (Cosmo Jarvis) was once a promising Irish boxing champion, but left the gloves behind for the reliable income and familiar treatment offered by the Devers crime family. As their chief enforcer, Arm is feared, which often hampers his relationship with his ex Ursula (Naimh Algar) and their autistic son Jack.
The delicate co-existence of Arm’s two worlds is a constant struggle, but when family patriarch Paudi Devers (Ned Dennehy) finally orders Arm to kill, it becomes clear there is room for only one set of loyalties.
Director Nick Rowland and screenwriter Joseph Murtagh adapt Colin Barrett’s short story “Calm With Horses” with a tightly-wound sense of tension and brutality that propels a fascinating curiosity about the lasting effects of violence on the ones dishing it out.
While recalling films from the classic (On the Watefront) to the underseen (The Drop), Rowland’s feature debut carves out its own rural identity thanks to an instinct for detail (watching two Irish gangsters debate the wisdom of fleeing to Mexico is perfection) and a marvelous cast.
Jarvis makes Arm an endlessly sympathetic brute, providing a needed depth to Arm’s slow awakening about who is and isn’t worth his trust. Much of that trust is given to Paudi’s heir apparent Dympna, an unrepentant manipulator brought to menacing life by Barry Keoghan (The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Dunkirk), who again shows why you don’t want to miss any film with him in it.
But it’s Arm’s time with Ursula and Jack (Kiljan Moroney) that reminds him of the kind of man he wants to be, one that knows the difference “between loyalty and servitude.”
These moral complexities of a man questioning his sense of the world are what gives The Shadow of Violence its voice, one that speaks most eloquently in the spaces between the bloodshed.