Release: Friday, October 21, 2022 (limited)
Written by: Martin McDonagh
Directed by: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Colin Farrell; Brendan Gleeson; Kerry Condon; Barry Keoghan; Sheila Flitton; Gary Lydon
Distributor: Searchlight Pictures
With The Banshees of Inisherin Martin McDonagh has discovered a new offshoot of the buddy comedy genre, the “You Are Dead to Me Buddy” comedy. Far from a feel-good experience, McDonagh’s fourth effort is a darkly amusing folly about male egotism, connection and loneliness that rests in the hands of tremendous performances and whose grimness is often obscured by some truly gorgeous production design.
The baffling story, in which the disintegration of a longstanding friendship leads to harsh consequences for all involved, takes place in 1923 on the fictional Irish isle of Inisherin. Two men find themselves at an impasse when Colm (Brendan Gleeson), an aspiring Important Musician, decides out of the blue to stop associating with his lifelong friend Pádraic (Colin Farrell), a nice but apparently “dull” farmer. On the mainland the waning days of the Irish Civil War are signified by periodic gunfire echoing off the limestone coastlines, as larger reverberations of what’s unfolding on this disenfranchised stone. They’re hardly subtle, but still effective as part of a grand orchestration of comically depressive factors that render Inisherin as more purgatorial than anything accessible.
In medias res McDonagh throws us into farce as Pádraic, who’s been operating under the assumption he’s no more boring today than he was yesterday, goes to make his rounds at his friend’s like he always does but instead gets the cold shoulder. To Pádraic, the daily pilgrimage to the pub for a cold brew and some idle chitchat is hardly the worst thing a fella can do with his time. But Colm, a fiddle player whom we watch gladly taking on the company of fellow musicians while routinely snubbing his mate, disagrees. “I have a tremendous sense of time slipping away,” he bemoans at one point — as if delusions of grandeur could qualify as a terminal illness.
When Pádraic refuses to accept the silent treatment, Colm sees no other option but to offer a grim ultimatum: Each time he is bothered by Pádraic he will cut off one of his own fingers. An absurd suggestion, not least because this will make it more challenging to complete the song he’s putting together, but sadly not a bitter old man’s bluff. As tensions worsen, we see the various ways other lives are affected. Chief among them is Pádraic’s kindhearted but exasperated sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon), who yearns for something more out of life than the misery Inisherin seems to inspire. Meanwhile Barry Keoghan may well play the film’s most tragic character, Dominic, the dimwitted son of the local Garda (Gary Lydon) who copes with his father’s horrible abuse by confiding in Pádraic, one of the few “nice” guys.
The story is slight but not inconsequential, a series of farcical vignettes building to an unsurprising but still somehow shocking crescendo of childish behavior. Whatever Banshees lacks in complicated plot it makes up for in strong craftsmanship and the performances are top of the list. What starts as passive-aggressive avoidance becomes more like a heavyweight boxing match where it isn’t clear which performer leaves the more bruising impact. Farrell has the showier role and uses his thick eyebrows and slumped shoulders to etch a devastating portrait of dejection, while Gleeson is intriguing in his own icy, enigmatic way and more than a little infuriating for the same reason.
As good as they are, and for how good the work is across the board — Condon in particular is outstanding as the island’s resident Sane Person — the rich production design and brilliant location scouting elevates the whole thing. Neither peninsula nor panhandle would seem to cut it for the depths of despair McDonagh is reaching for here, and his vision is supported by DP Ben Davis’ camerawork which oscillates between intimate, lonely interiors and sweeping atmospheric shots that powerfully evoke mood. Purpose-built sets are quaint inside and even the various animals taking advantage of the production’s open-door policy have important roles to play.
Banshees reunites Farrell and Gleeson with their In Bruges director after 15 years. The results have been met with critical adoration, most notably nine Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture. Because of the simplistic nature of the story a win seems like a long shot, but the film is powerfully transportive and certainly has the emotional gravity of a winner without ever feeling like it’s fawning for all that attention. It’s just such a natural movie despite, well, its unnatural actions. It is a pathetic state of affairs to be sure, but then that is kind of the point.
Moral of the Story: Melancholic and maddening, Martin McDonagh’s elegiac take on friendship, a cautionary tale about unchecked hubris, might not fit the bill for those looking for easy laughs but it’s a strong recommendation for those who are familiar with the director’s work and those who like offbeat stories. Not to mention an impressive follow-up to his previous effort, a movie that famously saw Frances McDormand drill her own dentist through the fingernail.
Running Time: 114 mins.
Quoted: “Some things there’s no moving on from. And I think that’s a good thing.”
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