Review by Luke Bradley
The Banshees of Inisherin (Martin McDonagh, 2022) sees Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Martin McDonagh team up once again for an impossibly Irish tale of a falling out between two lifelong friends. It would be difficult to deny that the prospect of an In Bruges (McDonagh, 2008) reunion didn’t excite me to my core. Yet, The Banshees of Inisherin is an entirely different film – and all the more fascinating for it.
The Banshees of Inisherin opens with classically beautiful shots of the Emerald Isle (the film was largely shot on Inis Mór and Achill Island), accompanied by mystic Irish vocals and an aethereal score by Carter Burwell. This sets the ghostly tone for the entire film, a story steeped in the consequences of ill-advised contempt. The film ticks along at a rhythmic pace, framed by the routine of Inisherin’s eclectic (yet occasionally two-dimensional) inhabitants. Cliché to say or not, McDonagh and his crew make the island of Inisherin a character of its own in this film. Ben Davis’ understated cinematography frames the island as equal parts charming and haunted, an indifferent asylum from a Civil War-riddled mainland.
Farrell is extraordinarily nuanced in the film, in a turn unlike any of his previous performances. Pádraic Súilleabháin is a deeply sympathetic and compelling character, an increasingly self-loathing man who’s perturbed by his label of ‘nice, but dim’ by the people of Inisherin. Pádraic’s unwanted feud with Colm Doherty (Gleeson) is fascinating to watch unfold, a genuinely fresh narrative that McDonagh explores with trademark humour and dread. Watching Pádraic’s stages of grief unfold is gripping, his denial lamentable yet entirely justifiable. Gleeson is reliably up to the task, his hatred of ‘aimless chatting’ jaded yet always understandable and captivating. Farrell and Gleeson’s onscreen dynamic, even being the polar opposite of In Bruges’, again elevates McDonagh’s undisputedly unique writing. Barry Keoghan and Kerry Condon both deliver memorable supporting performances – Keoghan as the charming ‘village idiot’ Dominic and Condon as Pádraic’s impressively patient and warm-hearted sister Siobhán. Even so, it’s Farrell and Gleeson’s film, and it’s all the better for it.
The Banshees of Inisherin is a probing deconstruction of the underlying expectation of ‘niceness’ in society, and the consequences of when this pretence is deliberately disrupted. It’s also an entertaining exploration of the implications of a bitter clash between two obstinate men on the people around them. Equal parts thought-provoking and witty, McDonagh once again affirms his talents as a writer-director. However, this isn’t simply ‘McDonagh does rural, 1920s Ireland’ – to label it as such would diminish what is a universally compelling and original story. The Banshees of Inisherin takes a shockingly simple idea and weaves an immensely layered story out of it. With top drawer performances from Farrell and Gleeson to boot, McDonagh’s trip to the West is a gorgeously melancholic film, and another Irish film to be proud of.