REVIEW: The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

Brendon Gleeson and Colin Farrell’s characters at the pub in Martin McDonagh’s latest hit THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN — PHOTO: Searchlight Pictures.

Directed by Martin McDonagh — Screenplay by Martin McDonagh.

By now, Martin McDonagh, a long-time celebrated British-Irish playwright, has established himself as a brilliant writer-director with a home in the dark comedy genre. His Oscar-winning short Six Shooter, as well as his equally excellent first two features In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, set up his name as one to keep an eye on as a filmmaker. With Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, McDonagh had a genuine awards frontrunner, and that extra spotlight, or magnifying glass, revealed a far more divisive and controversial film than the 7 Oscar nominations (and excellent Rotten Tomatoes score) may have made general audiences suspect. I’ve enjoyed all of McDonagh’s films, including Six Shooter, but Three Billboards didn’t land as well for me as In Bruges or Seven Psychopaths had. Therefore it makes me happy to say that The Banshees of Inisherin, his latest film, is a return to form and arguably as good as, if not better than, In Bruges

Set on an Irish island in 1923 during the time of the Irish Civil War, The Banshees of Inisherin follows two close drinking buddies whose relationship goes awry when one of them suddenly decides that he doesn’t want to waste his time with the other person anymore. Poor Pádraic Súilleabháin (played by Colin Farrell) is the simple, nice Irish man (with a pair of eyebrows whose smallest movements can speak a thousand words) who gets this unpleasant bit of news from his good friend Colm Doherty (played by Brendan Gleeson), a somewhat older and gruff fiddle player. Colm is struggling with despair and a fear of not having anything to be remembered for, and he wants to spend his time alone perfecting a piece of memorable folk music. Pádraic, on the other hand, just wants to enjoy life with his animals and his sister (played by Kerry Condon), and drinking with Colm is the highlight of his day — it gets him up in the morning. Naturally, Pádraic refuses to accept this sudden breakup without protest, but, when Colm angrily asserts that he is so tired of his company that he will cut off a finger if Pádraic ever speaks to him again, Pádraic’s entire worldview is turned upside down and he, too, is filled with despair as he now starts to question his own self-worth. 

The Banshees of Inisherin is a film about stubbornness, loneliness, adult male friendships, and bottling things up. It is a film about blaming others for your own shortcomings in realizing your dreams, and a film about desperately reaching out for another life trajectory. It is also a film about being away from everything. It’s a film about being or feeling isolated, which I think may have been a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Look at it like this, we have all these characters that insist on social distancing or are forced to social distance. But there is more to it. There are some quite clear indicators that suggest that the film’s central dispute is a metaphor for the Irish Civil War itself, and I think it’s also fair to say that it is about the futility of war. Frankly, I think it is an incredibly rich text with some laugh-out-loud lines of dialogue, as well as genuinely tragic and dark developments. It is also beautifully shot by Ben Davis and Carter Burwell’s score also does a lot of heavy lifting in giving the film a tone. But, like McDonagh’s previous films, this absolutely is an ensemble piece. 

At the forefront of the film, though, it’s honestly a two-hander with McDonagh’s frequent collaborators Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson having the heaviest duties. As a huge fan of In Bruges, it was absolutely delightful to see them together here, and I think this is the strongest performance of Farrell’s career. Farrell had an amazing 2022, and here he’s perfectly tuned as the simple-pleasures kind of Irishman who goes from jolly to confused to despondent to angry and whose face (and eyebrows) beautifully illustrates the real struggle and heartache at the center of the film. Gleeson’s performance is quieter, but he has gone with this really intense and dark stare here that is really effective. Similarly, Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan are quite good in smaller but incredibly meaningful roles, the latter of whom has this heartbreaking ‘last resort’ kind of reaction at one point. To add to that, the small-town island stereotypes here are also really perfect and often quite funny. From top to bottom, it’s a really excellent cast. 

With layered, intelligent, and darkly witty writing, The Banshees of Inisherin is not just arguably Martin McDonagh’s best film but also one of the very best films of 2022. This is also, to a large extent, thanks to the undeniably career-best work from Colin Farrell whose character’s arc is desperately distressing. It is rare that a film full of vulnerability, despair, regret, and tragedy is this good and genuinely funny. 

9.5 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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