Movie Review: The Banshees of Inisherin

Plot: Set in 1923 at the tail end of the Irish Civil War on the fictional isle of Inisherin, Martin McDonagh’s latest chronicles the breakdown of a friendship between Colm (Brendan Gleeson) and Padraic (Colin Farrell). When Colm abruptly begins ignoring Padraic to focus on his music, it devastates the dull but kind-hearted Padraic. With only his whip-smart sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon) and town idiot Dominic (Barry Keoghan) to fall back on, Padraic resolves to re-establish the friendship. However, when Colm gives Padraic a ghastly ultimatum, events begin to escalate.

Review: With In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Martin McDonagh has established an excellent, if not prolific career as a filmmaker. Each of the aforementioned films is a masterclass in directing and I’m thrilled to say that The Banshees of Inisherin also falls into that category. A beautiful and melancholy elegy about friendship, loneliness, what we aspire to, and what we leave behind, Banshees manages to be both thematically poignant and unexpectedly funny. Sporting some of the best visuals this side of The Batman and The Northman, courtesy of cinematographer Ben Davis, The Banshees of Inisherin somehow manages to feel relevant despite being set almost one hundred years ago.

What sets McDonagh apart from many of his contemporaries is his dual threat as both director and writer. While many directors take on both roles, few are quite as adept as McDonagh. Banshees will undoubtedly garner him his third Academy Award screenplay nomination and rightly so. Rarely have I seen a more beautiful film about loneliness and friendship as Banshees. Inisherin represents that universal small town that permeates most of Western culture. It raises the question that given the environment are the closest friends in our lives due to a conscious choice or just because of proximity and lack of options? And what happens when we aspire to more when our daily existence just isn’t good enough anymore?

This idea is exemplified through Colm and believe me Gleeson has never been better. Colm comes to the epiphany that he’s wasting what little time is left to him by hanging out with Padraic, a decidedly dull person. No longer content to entertain himself while he waits for the inevitable, Colm decides to focus on his music and chooses to cut the dull Padraic from his life. Colm aspires to more and recognizes that there is a world outside of Inisherin, something punctuated by the gunfire from the civil war on the mainland. He’s so determined at changing his life that he tells Padraic that every time he bothers him, Colm will cut off a finger. And it is no empty threat. Colm would rather maim himself than stand pat. Anyone who’s ever wanted more out of life can relate to Colm.

On the other side of the coin is the dull-witted, nice, and sometimes oblivious Padraic. Padraic simply cannot understand why Colm has made his decision. All he sees is the dissolution of the friendship between him and his best mate. Anyone who has ever experienced the untimely ending of a close bond knows what Padraic is going through. Colin Farrell is simply stunning in this role. Equal parts endearing, petulant, melancholy, petty, and kind, Farrell brings a level of nuance and subtlety that few actors could pull off. He’s all but a shoo-in for a Best Actor nod and it will be hard not to root for him come Oscar season. Also, if you can’t get behind the heartwarming relationship between Padraic and his pet donkey Jenny you may want to check your pulse.

McDonagh also does an excellent job of representing small-town isolated life. Whether it is the constant gossip mongers like the local store clerk, the fact that everyone knows everyone’s business within hours of an event happening, or people like the creepy and eccentric Mrs. O’Riordan (Brid Ni Neachtain), McDonagh inherently understands smalltown life and its tendency toward small thoughts and even smaller imaginations. As someone who comes from a small town in Western New York, the concepts immediately connected with me. What’s exquisite is that McDonagh juxtaposes the dullness and monotony of Inisherin with the beauty of the isle itself. Cinematographer Ben Davis delivers some hauntingly beautiful shots that are underscored by a subtle and effective score from Carter Burwell. Furthermore, I can’t overstate how incredibly funny The Banshees of Inisherin is. There were multiple moments that had me laughing out loud whether it was a scene with Padraic involving a bread truck or the local priest hearing Colm’s confession. McDonagh consistently chooses levity over despair.

While the focus of the film falls squarely on Colm and Padraic’s relationship, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the supporting players. David Pearse is hilarious as the local priest, with his interactions with Colm proving some of the funniest and poignant parts of the film. Gary Lydon serves as the closest thing to a villain Banshees offers as the unscrupulous and mean-spirited local police officer Peadar. He’s a character you absolutely despise but also an understandable byproduct of a place like Inisherin. Barry Keoghan also plays his son Dominic, the local village idiot that’s terrorized by his father. His performance will make you laugh one moment and break your heart the next. Kerry Condon also delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as Padraic’s sister Siobhan. Like Colm, she aspires to more but is actually willing to do something about it and take a job on the mainland as a librarian. Her departure from Padraic comes off as heartbreaking but you can’t help but feel triumphant that she’s able to extricate herself from Inisherin.

Though the interval between McDonagh films feels frustratingly long, if he continues to pump out corkers like The Banshees of Inisherin every five years or so I’m willing to wait. After all, no wine should be served before its time.

Or in the case of The Banshees of Inisherin, no pint of stout either.

My rating system:

God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad

2 Straight Garbage

3 Bad

4 Sub Par

5 Average

6 Ok

7 Good

8 Very Good

9 Great

10 A Must See

The Banshees of Inisherin: 9/10