The Banshees of Inisherin is the In Bruges reunion we’ve all been waiting for. Director Martin McDonagh has crafted a strange break-up story that deals with depression, self-acceptance, and miniature donkeys. In his usual fashion, McDonagh has created a hilarious premise that descends into insanity and tragedy. For those unfamiliar with McDonagh’s work, the director uses specific backdrops to fuel his stories. This time, he uses the Irish Civil War of 1923, and with the manic events that occur, that backdrop could mean many things.
As a writer and a director, McDonagh can make things as mundane as a small Irish village incredibly compelling. At the screening at the festival in which was in attendance, he introduced the movie to those without prior knowledge of its premise as “a fallout between two friends.” That premise is incredibly accurate, as simple as it is. However, the character work on display makes The Banshees of Inisherin deeply special.
Pádraic (Colin Farrell) heads out in the afternoon – as he often does – to grab a drink with his friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson). However, upon visiting Colm’s house, he’s promptly ignored for the rest of the day. Pádraic is very concerned he has upset Colm. Upon confronting him, Pádraic learns the hard truth: Colm just doesn’t like him anymore.
And so begins the events of the film. Although we hardly consider it in our day-to-day lives, relationships are fickle. Moreover, no matter how close you are to someone, you can never know exactly how they feel. The film tackles this topic and many more, offering a scathing and hilarious look at the human condition. The island setting provides a beautiful backdrop for the film and feels like a character. The beautiful landscape and surrounding ocean lend themselves to the isolated atmosphere of the movie and its characters.
Speaking of characters, Farrell and Gleeson give some of the best performances of their careers as Pádraic and Colm, respectively. Moreover, the supporting cast is just as stacked and talented as the leads, making every scene, whether it’s missing one of the main players or not, just as good.
McDonagh, a playwright, does some of his best work yet with Banshees. The dialogue is precise, thought-provoking, and hilarious all at the same time. The existential disagreement between Pádraic and Colm translates into words in a way that I didn’t think was possible. Words are at the center of The Banshees of Inisherin. To Colm, words are a precious commodity that says something about his life. A life that Colm feels is fleeting and nearly done. “I have a tremendous sense of time slipping away,” Colm says in one scene to a confused and sad Pádraic. Colm doesn’t want to waste time or words with Pádraic, whom he considers dim.
Most of the conflict of Banshees comes from Pádraic’s inability to grasp any of the concepts Colm’s throwing at him. The simple-minded Pádraic is clearly hurt by Colm’s words, although it wasn’t his friend’s intention to hurt him. While struggling with the existential crisis his friend is going through, Pádraic mostly finds comfort in the presence of his animals. Chief among them is his miniature donkey (who is a sure-fire supporting actor Oscar nomination).
Between Pádraic’s love of his animals and Colm’s desperate need to leave his mark on the world through music, McDonagh manages to say so much about the human condition without a word of dialogue. That’s extra impressive, given how much dialogue’s featured in the film.
When Pádraic isn’t constantly ignoring Colm’s pleas to be left alone, he’s either asking his sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon) about it or hanging out with the bold and immature Dominic (Barry Keoghan). Condon’s worldly and educated portrayal of Siobhan is a clear highlight among the supporting cast. Moreover, some of the film’s funniest moments come from Keoghan as Dominic. Keoghan’s line-delivery and physicality will leave you laughing in one scene and heartbroken in the next.
This tightrope balance of intense humor and darker examination of humanity makes McDonagh stand out from other filmmakers. Watching the residents of the island come to terms with what they want from themselves and others leads to unexpected moments of tension. Colm’s struggle with the meaning of his life and lack of patience with Pádraic leads to him acting out in dark and macabre ways.
Watching as Pádraic deals with the darker consequences of not knowing how to handle his friend’s depression is incredibly engaging. Moreover, Farrell gives one of the best performances of his career, with the unintentional levity of Pádraic’s incredulousness with the entire situation.
Eventually, Colm and his gloomy disposition rub off on Pádraic as an unintentional consequence of Colm’s actions to get his message across to his now ex-friend. The Banshees of Inisherin ends on an oddly climactic note, with Pádraic going through his own self-discovery. In turn, he gets a better understanding of Colm’s needs in his life. The film feels like it’s looking for a way to end and stumbles upon it, making the ending one of the few low points.
Overall, The Banshees of Inisherin is one of the year’s best films. McDonagh has crafted an incredible tale about friendship, existentialism, and human discourse. The film is hilarious, dark, and sometimes morbid, but it never feels out of place. Pair that with incredible performances all around and a period setting that tell a story in and of itself, and you can’t go wrong with the film. If my words have as much power imbued in them as McDonagh seems to think, I would like to say: go see this movie. – Ernesto Valenzuela
The Banshees of Inisherin Is In Theaters On October 21, 2022
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