Review: THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN, Of Friendship, Life and Death
I went into The Banshees of Inisherin expecting something special.
The last time writer/director Martin McDonagh worked with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson resulted in In Bruges (2008), by far McDonagh's best film. The Banshess of Inisherin proved to be more than special. It's one of the very best films of the year.
In fact, I'll say it. It's a stronger film overall than even In Bruges. I would place it alongside his brother John Michael McDonagh's Calvary (2014) and call it a perfect double feature. One is about friendship and the other about faith but both take place in an Ireland where either of those things can be about life and death.
Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson) are two lifelong friends on an island off the west Irish coast. Their existence is marked by the typical things we associate with such a situation, time at the pub being chief among them.
One day Colm tells Pádraic he doesn't want to be friends anymore, refusing to offer reasons why. Pádraic, unwilling to take no for an answer, keeps pressing, causing Colm to offer a stunning ultimatum. Starting now, every time that Pádraic talks to him, Colm will cut off one of his fingers and leave it at Pádraic's doorstep. Thus, the stage is set, but for what?
Simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking, McDonagh's screenplay leads its cast past the casual charms often associated with Irish cinema and its sometimes quirky characters and situations. This is not a story that can end in whimsy. Amidst the laughs -- and there are many, some of them deep and long -- are two men determined to follow their own path at whatever the cost.
Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson share a chemistry here that is rare and powerful among men as their characters grieve and rage and bicker. The sense of loss between them is palpable. Pádraic is a simple man content with his life and untroubled by questions of meaning (or so he thinks). Colm is a late in life convert to existential angst, troubled by the intangibility of his life. Will anyone remember him?
McDonagh has fashioned a tale that forces discomfort, not over lost fingers or bloody fisticuffs, but over shortsightedness and the unkindnesses it can lead to. The true genius of the screenplay, performances and direction lies in the way the stakes escalate, drawing others into the shared madness of the two men. Questions of who is right and wrong give way to the sinking feeling that what was most important was lost for nothing at all.
The supporting cast is every bit the equal of the main players. Kerry Condon as Pádraic's sister Siobhan, who has bigger dreams than life on the island, yet is nonetheless fearsomely devoted to her brother. Caught dead between the pair after Colm's decision, her efforts at drawing Pádraic out into the emotional open and playing referee are marked with a strength that sets her apart as a wholly realized character watching angrily and then helplessly as she realizes the limits of how she can help.
My favorite character, though, is Dominic Kearney, the village "idjiot," played to daft perfection by Barry Keoghan. Dominic could have been a stock character providing easy laughs at his own expense. But the script and Keoghans performance make of him a complex boy on the cusp of knowing he must find somewhere to belong, even as his lack of self-awareness keeps others at arms length. I laughed more than once at his cluelessness, even as the true depth of his character snuck up on me.
I'll leave it to you to decipher the title of the film. Suffice it to say that banshees are traditionally linked to keening, a particular type of mourning. What this story is mourning is worth the telling and my human soul could not fail to join in, wishing that life could be simpler, easier, and happier than it often is.
The film opens in movie theaters Friday, October 21, 2022, via Searchlight Pictures.
The Banshees of Inisherin
- Martin McDonagh
- Martin McDonagh
- Colin Farrell
- Brendan Gleeson
- Kerry Condon