‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ review: Dark Irish comedy

It’s hardly an original realization that The Banshees of Inisherin, Martin McDonagh’s caustic and sad new film, is also his latest work to give its setting the highest credit. Longtime admirers of the British-Irish writer-director’s stage work know his penchant for regionally specific titles such as The Cripple of Inishmaan and The Lieutenant of Inishmore, two plays that together with this film form a loosely connected trilogy together not through common ones characters, but through similarities. If character is destiny in McDonagh’s work, then both are also inextricably linked to place and landscape. Here he continues to draw us into a secluded Irish enclave, where the air is thick with salty insults and bitter laughter, and cruelty seems to well up from the ground like highly acidic groundwater.

That is not to say that Ireland – either the land of McDonagh’s first-hand experience or that of his fictional imagination – has a monopoly on cruelty. This is evident in his more distant plays such as A Handling in Spokane, and also in his films such as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and In Bruges. The 2008 comedy co-stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are reunited in The Banshees of Inisherin, only this time they don’t play two killers on a less than idyllic Belgian vacation, they play their best in a long time play friends who have never known a home outside of Inisherin. And from our first glimpse of this small, fictional island, with its lush greenery and not infrequent rainbows (beautifully filmed by Ben Davis), it doesn’t seem so bad.

By the end of the film, we’ll know better. The year is 1923, and in the distance the Irish Civil War rages, providing a blunt but hazy thematic framework for this more intimate tale of men in conflict. The beauty of Inisherin soon turns sour and caustic, much like the once harmonious friendship between Pádraic Súilleabháin (Farrell), a mild-mannered dairy farmer, and Colm Doherty (Gleeson), a gruff, sharp-eyed fiddler. In the opening scene, Pádraic heads out to meet Colm for their usual afternoon beer, only to find the man sitting at home with his back to the window, tacitly ignoring Pádraic’s knocks and pleas. Can a man scowl not only with his face but with his whole bulky frame? Somehow Gleeson manages.

Confused by this taciturn treatment, Pádraic remains undeterred – surely it must be some kind of joke or misunderstanding – and refuses to accept that the friendship is over, even after Colm later explains it to him down in the pub: “I just know Not. I don’t like you anymore.” After a pause that lasts what seems like forever, Pádraic replies with a mixture of confusion, disbelief and grief that Farrell plays perfectly: “Yes do like me!” And the funny thing is, he’s right. Colm’s abrupt decision isn’t based on a lack of affection, but on a lack of time: Desperate and newly aware of his approaching mortality, he wants to spend his days playing and composing music , the only thing that offers him any semblance of comfort or meaning, and he wants to consume his last pints in peace, away from Pádraic’s incessant whining.

A man walks his donkey on a hilly Irish road.

It’s been a winding road, but Colin Farrell may be ready for his first Oscar nomination for his touching work in The Banshees of Inisherin.

(Jonathan Hession / Searchlight Pictures)

Incessant wailing is, of course, an unflattering if essentially correct way of describing McDonagh’s own savory dialogue, which uses staccato rhythms and deliberate word repetition to create a sustained back-and-forth almost as musical as Carter Burwell’s beautiful score . Aside from ‘feck’, the preferred expletive of this early 20th-century Irish milieu, the most used four-letter words in the screenplay are ‘dull’ and ‘nice’, two words that are often hurled in Pádraic’s direction. Good-natured and easy-going, Pádraic gets along with just about everyone, from his perceptive sister Siobhan (an absolutely wonderful Kerry Condon) to the animals placed under his trusty care. (None of the latter is more popular than his mini donkey Jenny, the key member of the film’s gorgeous four-legged ensemble.)

Colm’s rejection of Pádraic is also, in a way, a rejection of the tyranny of niceness, and a claim that greatness – whether in the form of a Mozart symphony or, God willing, the more humble violin piece he is attempting to compose – is far from greater value . All of this opens up a rich, thorny dialogue about McDonagh himself, who likes to blur the lines between humanism and nihilism and who comes perhaps as close to greatness in The Banshees of Inisherin as it ever came. A measure of the film’s skill and generosity is that it embraces the wisdom of its two protagonists. You’ll share Colm’s desperation and defend his right to live an unhindered life of music and spirit, but you’ll also agree with Pádraic’s argument that kindness and camaraderie leave their own indelible, if often invisible, legacies.

A man sits at a table in a darkened room, a horse leans over the table.

Colin Farrell in Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin.


Dulling the waters even further: despite his strict enforcement of boundaries (including a not-so-casual threat to harm himself if Pádraic doesn’t leave him alone), Colm still finds ways to treat his hapless former friend with decency and compassion . Meanwhile, for all his niceties, Pádraic is the one whose escalating harassment of Colm takes on a menacing overtone, smeared with whiskey, desperation, and anger. Watching these two characters rage against each other is like gaining a whole new understanding of what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. And ultimately, no one understands this dynamic better than Siobhan, who – both as Pádraic’s loyal, loving sister and as the only person on Inisherin who can intellectually match Colm – could hardly be more divided in her sympathies.

Siobhan’s presence – and her own highly individual decision-making – opens up another dialectic. Although the film focuses on the conflict between two equally unyielding men, the film is no less about the tension between a small, isolated community and the vast world that lies beyond its cloudy horizon. Taunted by the provincials for being single and literal, Siobhan contemplates her own possible escape. And who can blame her? The Banshees of Inisherin, like many of McDonagh’s earlier works, uses its physically distant setting to sketch an entire human cosmos of greed, malice and self-deception populated by characters including a chatty shopkeeper (Bríd Ní Neachtain), a physical an abusive cop (Gary Lydon), a witchy doomsayer (Sheila Flitton) and, on the more likable side, a village idiot named Dominic (Barry Keoghan).

With the exception of Dominic, a perennial troublemaker whom Keoghan bestows with wit, mischievousness, and unexpected pathos, none of these supporting characters reveal more than one or two dimensions. While “The Banshees of Inisherin” is a marked improvement over the wildly uneven “Three Billboards,” it still doesn’t quite shake off some of the knee-jerkly superficial, cynical aspects of McDonagh’s writing, namely his tendency to reduce some of his characters to one- Note personalities, or to make them the subject of gruesomely comic (and sometimes cosmic) punch lines. They are the playthings of a god who administers punishment with a whimsical, even arbitrary hand, and whom few of these habitual churchgoers — perhaps not even the tiresome priest (David Pearse) hired to settle the central conflict — ultimately truly trust or who they believe in .

And so Colm is rightfully consumed with despair. Which Pádraic doesn’t go wrong in assuming that there are ointments for life’s afflictions and that he might actually be one of them. Farrell’s performance, one of his finest ever, is a balm in itself, a thing of raw simplicity and exquisite delicacy, hitting comical beats and striking emotional chords with the same deft touch. Without ever becoming leaden or oppressive, he shows us a man who is not the same by the end of the film, who has experienced more loss, anger and grief than he ever thought possible. All he can really rely on is the ground beneath his feet — and in that regard at least, McDonagh says, he may be far less alone than he realizes.

‘The Banshees of Inisherin’

Rated: R, for consistent speech, some violent content, and brief graphic nudity

Duration: 1 hour 54 minutes

To play: Begins October 21 at AMC the Grove, Los Angeles; AMC Century City

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-10-20/review-the-banshees-of-inisherin-colin-farrell-brendan-gleeson-martin-mcdonagh ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ review: Dark Irish comedy

Sarah Ridley

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