By Elias Savada.
Pain, grief, disorientation, and a dash of violence are soulfully plotted together by McDonagh, with his vision so wonderfully conveyed through the expressive chemistry of Farrell and Gleeson.”
Martin McDonagh makes marvelous, crazy, fiercely creative movies filled with wildly inventive characters. He also writes lots of plays (sadly, I haven’t attended any, including the one about someone’s 27-year search for a missing left hand). He wins oodles of well-deserved awards. Hooray! He’s about to add another feather in his multi-talented hat with his new feature. You’d be wise to watch and enjoy it.
With In Bruges (2008) and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), two of the four features he has directed, he put those places on the map. Well, actually, he didn’t, especially the latter town. It doesn’t exist. Neither does the island at the center of The Banshees of Inisherin. And despite its suggestive title, it is not a horror film, but there is an abundance of comic darkness.
(Sorry if this is confusing – my brain gets frazzled when a new McDonagh oeuvre arrives in town.)
1923 is the year – on a remote Island off the west coast of Ireland. BFFs Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson) are BFFs no more. No offense to his now former pal, but Colm Doherty decides unilaterally (for self-serving reasons later revealed), that he wants no more contact, not a word of small talk, and no shared pints of Guinness with the younger, quite dull Paddy laddie. All the dazed and confused boy/man gets for an answer to his why is “I just don’t like you no more.” Saddened to extended desperation, the rejected friend can’t understand, even after a determined Colm states it will be a clean cut to their relationship, and he literally suggests some very drastic measures he will take if the former friend tries to resurrect the camaraderie they had enjoyed. Meeting at the pub at 2 PM every day, to be precise. Paddy, clouded in eternal fogginess and stubborn as a mule, can’t take no for an answer. Dire events follow.
Yes, welcome to the weirdness of the depressingly ordinary.”
Farrell, who has been a part of three of McDonagh’s small feature output, and Gleason (who co-starred with Farrell in In Bruges) are apparently enjoying themselves here, even if it’s in support of fiercely dark and comic notions. The only person missing is American actor Sam Rockwell, who won an Academy Award for his supporting role in Ebbing, and was part of McDonagh’s large crime ensemble piece Seven Psychopaths (2012). What an acting trifecta that would be!
Farrell, bedecked with bushy eyebrows and unsettling hair, certainly breathes life into his character’s tedious self. The carefree Pádraic lives an uneventful life on this unremarkably mundane yet remarkably serene piece of earth (wonderfully photographed by Ben Davis), living with his well-read and bound-for-better-things sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon, a scrappy Irish equivalent of Frances McDormand, with whom she co-starred in Ebbing), a handful of farm critters, and his pet, Jenny, a miniature donkey.
Gleason plays a gruff Hardy to Farrell’s bewildered, pouty Laurel as this eccentric and quite clever piece proceeds, and the rest of the island’s Greek chorus adds immensely as a backdrop to the duo’s escalating antics. Barry Keoghan plays Dominic, Inisherin’s resident half-wit, a foolish jester, with an underlying slyness. Gary Lydon villainously fills the shoes of the nasty Peader Kearney, the local constable and Dominic’s father, Brid Ní Neachtain is the gossipy shop woman, and Sheila Flitton is the cackling old woman, a Shakespearian witch, or maybe a banshee.
Paddy’s misguided and poorly constructed conniving drops many a jaw (on screen and in the audience) as the film proceeds. Colm’s bloody responses escalate to tragic consequences for one member of Paddy’s beloved entourage. Stubbornness and desperation rise to new heights as these “friends” each determine to win their side of this pull down the push me – pull me beast of a relationship.
While the Irish Civil War is raging on the mainland, with little effect on the island locals, the battle amongst two of its residents affects nearly everyone there. Pain, grief, disorientation, and a dash of violence are soulfully plotted together by McDonagh, and his vision so wonderfully conveyed through the expressive chemistry of Farrell and Gleeson, that The Banshees of Inisherin might heal any broken hearts in the audience. Irish stew never tasted so wickedly good.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).