The Banshees of Inisherin is the new film from Academy Award-winner Martin McDonagh. As a former visitor, seeing a film shot in his proverbial backyard is a nice reprieve from watching his previous film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which was shot in my proverbial backyard in North Carolina (despite taking place in Missouri, but I’ve made my peace with that). Backlash began to set in within film communities by the end of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’s theatrical run, but despite that, I still kind of love the film and it took home Academy Awards for Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell, and has been used as an inspiration for real life protest pieces against injustices around the world. The Banshees of Inisherin, while a much more personal tale, still takes on similar themes of the power of talk within small communities and the ways public opinion can turn on a dime, changing the course of history for a community forever.
In 1923, during the tail end of the Irish Civil War, on the seemingly uninvolved island of Inisherin, in the Aran Islands off the Irish West Coast, a small town begins their own proverbial civil war when local composer Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) decides to break off his friendship with Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell), as he finds Pádraic’s dullness to be impeding his ability to write his musical masterpiece. Determined to win back the friendship of Colm, Pádraic sets out on a journey to convince Colm he is not dull, but as the community is forced to take sides in this platonic divorce, the divide is intensified when Colm’s dedication to the cause of dropping Pádraic for good is made clear.
Early on in The Banshees of Inisherin, it feels like a much more slight effort on behalf of McDonagh, lacking that out-the-gate punch that something like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri had with its dark, heavy opening. However, doubts are quickly assuaged as McDonagh’s pension for dark, yet funny plots takes full effect as the rift between friends becomes wider and wider, and Pádraic’s antics become more and more desperate. Things descend into a quiet madness very quickly, and the film makes a wonderful point about playing both sides equally. We understand that Pádraic is incredibly boring and that could be grating, but for as dull as he is, there’s a genuine sweetness that Colm’s sudden cruelty doesn’t justify. It’s easy to understand why each character has the motivations they do, and the film could easily be viewed on multiple occasions, taking in an almost entirely different film with each focus on a new viewpoint.
There’s something truly magical about the working relationship between McDonagh, Farrell, and Gleeson. While magic can happen once, like it did in In Bruges, and can slightly be repeated with just Farrell in Seven Psychopaths, hitting the performances so out of the park a second time together after 14 years speaks to the level of faith and trust on both sides of the camera from the actors and director. We’re watching many of the finest actors of Ireland act opposite of each other, including equally wonderful supporting performances from Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan, and that’s not something to be taken lightly.
And strangely enough, despite its twisted bite, there’s a level of comfort that comes in The Banshees of Inisherin. There is a beautiful world built within the confines of this small island, and the people within it, despite their flaws, feel true to life. These are places that you immediately can connect to and understand, from the friendly pub to the general store run by the crotchety old woman you do your best to avoid. The good and the bad of the island all culminate in feeling like a warm hug…a warm hug that ends with you getting stabbed in the back and bleeding to death, but in the moment of that hug, you feel comfort and familiarity.
Even more comforting is my new writing/study playlist in Carter Burwell’s beautifully fluttery score that feels like an even warmer, less dubious hug punctuating the increasingly bleak events of the film’s proceedings. Despite this bleakness, there isn’t a moment that isn’t objectively lovely and pleasant in Burwell’s score, leaving audiences with a dissonance as the film devolves into chaos. It’s simply the cherry on top of an already delicious cake.
The Banshees of Inisherin is another home run in a series of two home runs and a double from Martin McDonagh. While not the loudest or most bombastic home run, it’s the one that wins the game for the underdog team by an undervalued player, taking the glory. It’s funny and tragic in equal measure, leaving audiences wondering when it’s the appropriate time to laugh or cry, or perhaps both. McDonagh directs career best performances out of the entire cast, but gives Colin Farrell perhaps his best shot at his first Oscar, and deservedly so. It’s a beautifully layered piece of tragedy that gives audiences the ability to actively take sides in a domestic dispute, and leaves an incredible amount of moral interpretation for those willing to take the time for it. Just beware of the hug this film might try to give you, it hides something sharp beneath.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.
In theaters October 21st, 2022.
For more information, head to the official Searchlight Pictures The Banshees of Inisherin webpage.