Review by Sean Boelman
Hoping to bring a sense of humanity to the often cold crime thriller genre, Nick Rowland’s feature debut The Shadow of Violence is a lot more complex than many of the films from which it draws inspiration. And even though the movie doesn’t quite stick the landing, it manages to be a surprisingly strong and powerful watch.
The film follows a devoted enforcer of a drug dealer as he finds himself torn between his orders and his desire to be a better father. While the idea of a criminal growing a conscience and starting to resent their life of crime is nothing new, Joseph Murtaugh’s script brings a uniquely empathetic touch to these tropes.
When the movie is more focused on its characters, it is thoroughly effective. The story involving the protagonist’s relationship with his special needs son is well-written and often heartbreaking, but is often eschewed in favor of the more traditionally-appealing action-oriented elements of the story.
Although indie darling Barry Keoghan may be the higher-profile of the two stars (and he is excellent here), it is Cosmo Jarvis who runs the show as the protagonist. Jarvis gives a performance that is uncharacteristically vulnerable for the genre, taking the film a long way in terms of its emotional impact.
Unfortunately, heading into the final act, the movie turns into what essentially amounts to a “man on the run” thriller. Even though the finale does provide a satisfying conclusion to the protagonist’s emotional arc, it leaves something to be desired in regards to the other characters, particularly Keoghan’s.
As is the case with most thrillers like this, the main message here is that crime doesn’t pay, and the title makes that abundantly clear. (The more symbolic and arguably better original title "Calm With Horses" was changed for release, perhaps because of its ambiguity.) Still, Murtaugh handles these themes in a natural way without feeling didactic.
Additionally, Rowland shows a lot of talent behind the camera, bringing a unique visual style to the film. One expects brutality out of movies like this, and there are some shocking sequences of violence, but Rowland is much more concerned with creating an atmosphere conducive to suspense and sympathy, these rough moments only serving as a piece in the bigger puzzle.
Most of the issues with The Shadow of Violence lie within its script, but a strong cast and excellent direction are able to compensate for the material’s shortcomings. It isn’t often that audiences get a heartfelt crime drama like this.
The Shadow of Violence opens in theaters on July 31.