Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson) are the best of friends as Martin McDonagh’s black comedy, The Banshees of Inisherin, opens. Living an isolated life on an Irish isle, Inisherin, the two men join each other on the isle’s singular bar, trading nonplussed banter, covering nothing.
One cloudy afternoon, Colm broadly declares that he no longer desires a friendship with Pádraic and to leave him alone. No explanation is given, just a simple cutting of ties. ‘Tis easier said than done on an isle where everyone knows your business, where gossip is juicier than the Irish Civil War brewing on the other side of the channel from Inisherin.
McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) continues to add to his laurel wreath with his latest film, a pleasing mix of comedy and drama. He doesn’t hold back any punches, only less satirical, a la Danny DeVito’s The War of the Roses.
Regarding McDonagh’s laurel wreath, I’m not just referring to his Golden Osella win for Best Screenplay at the Venice International Film Festival in September (or, incidentally, leading Farrell to his Volpi Cup for Best Actor.) Brimming with a thick Irish brogue and the charm of Inisherin being isolated from the rest of the world, the story puts the audience right into the middle of the two men’s lives. We know enough about their relationship before this story begins.
McDonagh feeds us, both visually with Ben Davis’ striking cinematography and through Farrell’s and Gleeson’s respective performances, two men who have no real reason to feud. That is until Colm threatens himself with bodily harm if Pádraic doesn’t leave him alone.
Irish pride be damned, lines are drawn in the proverbial sand, and unable to handle the rejection, Pádraic is determined to figure out what he did wrong. Pádraic is resourceful but clueless as his sister, Siobhán, played with a beautiful simplicity by Kerry Condon, tries to fill in the missing pieces to his vexing puzzle. Adding to his woes is the troubled, playful lad Dominic, skillfully executed by Barry Keoghan, who aims to make moves on any woman with a good pulse, including Siobhán, much to the dismay of his policeman father, Peadar (Gary Lydon.)
In a touching scene, Siobhán gently rebuffs the troublesome lad. Dominic takes the hint. Character-driven scenes such as this make McDonagh’s brilliant script so intriguing. Supporting characters like Dominic are given their due course; they are critical to McDonagh’s stories. Even if you need subtitles to understand the words said through thick Irish brogue, the visual cues are their own subtext, conveying far more of the director’s intent.
Colm is lyrical in nature, and Carter Burwell’s score fits the character very nicely. That’s because when he’s not drinking or reacting to one of Pádraic’s feeble attempts to rekindle their friendship, Colm composes music. His latest piece, “The Banshees of Inisherin,” warns about their friendship in the traditional Gaelic sense of the word as it celebrates their friendship’s beauty; they need each other. Gleeson, who co-starred with Farrell in McDonagh’s In Bruges, is sublime. His token calmness only adds to the performance.
On the other hand, Pádraic remains clueless throughout most of The Banshees of Inisherin’s run time. Farrell is intentionally meek for this role, as if the actor aimed to avoid standing out. That is until an accident leads him to take action in an incendiary third act.
Pádraic and Colm are an evolution of Norm Peterson and Cliff Clavin from television’s Cheers: two innocuous characters full of wisdom without a clue about how to use said wisdom forged through a brotherly bond between the men, a bond the audience feels. Their crumbling relationship and those surrounding them are the heart of the film and are not lost on Ferrell, Gleeson, McDonagh, or the audience; it is better for it. That bond will be tested, pushed to its limits, and beyond. Even in the seemingly fleeting moment depicted in the trailer and on the theatrical one-sheet, you can feel the heart beating between the two men as one banshee begets the other.
Martin McDonagh’s skilled directing and screenplay, Colin Farrell’s and Brendan Gleeson’s superb performances, The Banshees of Inisherin embodies its brotherly bonds through isolation. It screams to be discovered by audiences, full of characters you might otherwise avoid while being too interested in their goings-on to avoid them.
The Banshees of Inisherin
Written and Directed by Martin McDonagh
Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan
R, 114 minutes, Searchlight Pictures/Film4 Productions, Blueprint Pictures, TSG Entertainment