There’s a sense of claustrophobia in both small towns and criminal gangs, the product of closed-in horizons and limited ways out. That’s the trap in which Douglas ‘Arm’ Armstrong (‘Lady Macbeth’ star Cosmo Jarvis) finds himself in this surprising and often inspired Irish crime drama.
Arm is an enforcer for the drug-dealing Devers family and companion to young Dympna Devers (Barry Keoghan) in a small town in the west of Ireland. When the pair are ordered to kill a disgraced former ally by the family’s psychotic boss, they face a moment of crisis. Arm’s situation is further complicated by his son Jack (Kiljan Moroney), who needs money to attend a special-needs school.
Lots of elements of the story feel familiar, but they play out in unusual and unpredictable ways here. We’ve seen the heavy-with-a-heart character before, but Jarvis gives Arm real pathos, even at his most violent. There’s real desperation, too, when he tries to connect with young Jack. Keoghan’s Dympna is similarly less of a giggling psychopath than he wants to be, and less of a manipulator than he thinks. At times the pair are almost charming: really just boys caught up in something they don’t understand.
This is the first feature from director Nick Rowland, already a Bafta nominee for his short film ‘Slap’, and he treads a fine line between hitting genre beats and avoiding clichés. If the film doesn’t quite have the sharpness of John Michael McDonagh’s best work in similar terrain (particularly ‘The Guard’), it’s a worthy companion piece, as dangerous and soppy-drunk as an old pub brawler.