Every relationship has its rocky roads. How the relationship shapes each person in it will change at times, but few will push to the point of violence. Even rarer are those that create self-harm. Yet The Banshees of Inisherin, by writer and director Martin McDonagh, seems hellbent on making you laugh every step of the way. The Irish black comedy features powerhouse performances from Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, and Barry Keoghan without sacrificing depth. One of the most purely emotional stories of the year, The Banshees of Inisherin features some of McDonagh’s best work to date.
On the small island of Inisherin, farmer and herder Pádraic (Farrell) struggles to find his best friend Colm (Gleeson). When Pádraic finds Colm at the local pub, Colm makes it clear he does not want to speak or socialize with Pádraic for the rest of his life. As the two men continue to interact, despite the frustrations from Colm, it becomes clear their lives are eternally intertwined. To ensure that Pádraic takes him seriously, Colm threatens to cut off one of his own fingers every time Pádraic speaks to him.
McDonagh does not seek to hide the subtext of Banshees, and it’s frankly better for it. War and violence spill out across the water from Inisherin, where Irish fighting continues. The metaphor of a metaphorical Civil War juxtaposed against a literal Civil War does not mean to be subtle. In fact, the efforts become a catch-all for larger issues across Western Society, from Brexit to January 6th in the United States. Yet this adaptability and the universal truths within Banshees point to the power of the story McDonagh chooses to tackle.
Of course, McDonagh once again gets career performances from Farrell and Gleeson. In 2008, McDonagh’s masterpiece In Bruges put the two men at its center and let them cook. Over ten years later, McDonagh has almost created his own Linklater-esque universe, bringing his beloved actors back together to chew through his dialogue. The two-character actors simply sing throughout the entire feature, taking your breath away as you watch their emotional journeys converge, diverge, and come full circle.
Farrell delivers his fourth brilliant performance of 2022, and it will likely be remembered as his best. In fact, it might be Farrells best since In Bruges, a tall order for any actor to replicate. The leading-man turned character actor shows complex emotional vulnerability, rage, and comedic chops. Every inch of the performance drips with sad sack energy, yet there’s something inherently tragic about the sheer physicality of Farrell in the role. Farrell might have stolen the entire film from his excellent co-stars if not for their accomplishments. Yet Gleeson ensures that Farrell has an equal on screen and brings barrels of pathos for us to soak. Gleeson’s long showcased a wise nature, but by revealing the side of a zealot capable of insanity, the actor brings us a portrait of a sociopath who is simply unwilling to learn at any cost.
This seems to be McDonagh’s most important message to deliver. Across the globe, stubborn individuals susceptible to disinformation have continued to rise to positions of power. As we try to associate with our friends and family, we may be inclined to89 cut them from our lives. Yet the mere choice to do so is one of selfishness, even as we attempt to put our closest friends on the right path. In the stubbornness comes an unwillingness to listen, creating further failures in communication only increases divisiveness.
Not to be ignored, both Condon and Keoghan display brilliance. Keoghan rips your heart out with his insanely good-natured character that cannot understand the social cues of those around him. He displays vulnerability unlike few performers alive and was born to deliver McDonagh’s dialogue. As he skates his way through town as a fast-talking but lovable figure, he seems too naive for this world. On the flip side, Condon displays a weariness of a woman forced to restart her life on several occasions. She dreams for something bigger, even if that brings her directly into a world of violence and strife. Condon’s subtlety adds a melancholy undertone that is lifted by others as the film progresses.
The actor and writing showcases will dominate most of the discussion on the film, but McDonagh brings his best directorial effort to date. The cinematography from DP Ben Davis adds a heavenly feel to the island. Yet as the film progresses, it becomes clear that Davis’ visuals embody a more purgatorial aesthetic. The blocking and angles from Davis lift the film above a stage-like setting, despite many conversations taking place in dull, dark rooms. Meanwhile, Carter Burwell‘s Irish-infused score adds to the mysteries of the island. The use of strings, bells, and xylophones adds to the folktale charms of Inisherin, but the foreboding nature of Burwell’s score still looms. Few composers can marry the two concepts, yet after a career of working with the Coens, Burwell is more than up for the challenge.
However you read Banshees of Inisherin, it will likely hit close to home. After all, everyone has seen their relationships with close friends change or dissipate on a whim. An effort is required to keep the closest relationships alive, and Banshees showcases the difficulty in that pursuit. At the same time, McDonagh showcases a more unique skill set as a director since his last outing, allowing the craft of his film to keep up with the sharp dialogue. While the pacing and general melancholy tone will not be for everyone, McDonagh appears close to creating another masterpiece on the horizon.