An argument between two friends gets out of hand in The Banshees of Inisherin
Martin McDonagh is a singular writing talent. I can think of no other filmmaker capable of writing a story that you condemn as abjectly absurd, and yet within a few minutes can have you crying at the absolute sorrow of it all. A few minutes later you are laughing again, even as the tragedy deepens. The Banshees of Inisherin is the latest from this master of black comedy, following on from 2017’s multi-award winning Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri and the cult classic In Bruges. Banshees reunites McDonagh with his In Bruges stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson.
The fictional Inisherin is a small island off the West coast of Ireland. In the early 1920s with civil war rumbling on in the background Padraic (Farrell) is shocked when his lifelong best friend Colm (Gleeson) tells him he doesn’t want to be any friends anymore. The only reason Colm will give for the snub is that Padraic is ‘’dull,’’ and he demands that Padraic never speak to him again.
Padriac enlists his long-suffering sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon) and the village outcast Dominic (Barry Keoghan) to try and win him round, but Colm issues Padriac with the gruesome ultimatum that if he ever speaks to him again, he will cut off one of his own fingers. The argument goes further than any of the villagers could have imagined.
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The Banshees of Inisherin feels like a parable with added zingers. While Colm and Padriac get into a flaming argument over whether it is better to be nice or to be remembered, kindhearted Padriac is increasingly pushed to be not so nice himself. For all that the rest of the villagers think he spouts nonsense, Dominic frequently acts as Padriac’s conscience – probing him with surprisingly profound moral questions. As much as the central characters do a lot of talking about feelings, McDonagh seems to poke fun at toxic masculinity and the trouble that is caused by men’s egos and their inability to communicate.
It’s not just the script which is sensational, Banshees also appears as McDonagh’s most visually beautiful film thanks to the cinematography of frequent collaborator Ben Davis. The vivid greens of the real island of Inishmore contrast against a blue sea and a rainbow strewn sky to bewitching effect. To quote Ralph Fiennes’ Harry ‘’it’s beautiful fucking fairytale stuff,’’ and just further enhances this feeling that we are seeing an age-old lesson play out in an otherworldly setting.
It’s by far his funniest film since In Bruges, Farrell and Gleeson recapturing that lightening in a bottle banter that made their first pairing such a delight. Large sections of The Banshees of Inisherin are laugh out loud, hysterically funny – made only better being set in an isolated community in which absolutely everyone wants in on the gossip, so the whole village of characters is having a go. A particular highlight are Colm’s frequent verbal sparring sessions with his priest in the confessional box – Gleeson reveling in winding up the man of God.
The two stars are sensational, both with solid comedic chops but also a complete mastery of the darker elements of the story. Joviality is frequently intercut with moments of shocking violence only to descend into genuine tragedy and sorrow. That both are able to move so effortlessly through the constantly evolving tone is a joy to watch – it’s impossible to pick the better performance out of the two, they are a perfect partnership. Praise must also be given to Barry Keoghan who steals every scene he’s in, a brilliant addition to the cast.
The only reason I haven’t given it five stars is that while The Banshees of Inisherin sees McDonough ask some of his biggest existential questions yet, it doesn’t quite pack the emotional punch of Bruges or Billboards, somehow managing to simultaneously be a more ridiculous yet more understated film. Still, it is absurdly funny, deliciously dark and Colin Farrell has an adorable wee miniature donkey to boot. What more could you want?
The Banshees of Inisherin has been reviewed as part of the BFI London Film Festival. It is out in cinemas on 21st October 2022
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