Writer-Director Martin McDonagh joins forces once again with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson for a black-hearted comedy about friendship and not knowing when to let go
By Sean Blanford
Welcome to the beautiful, lush, and fictional island of Inisherin. Off the coast of Ireland, there are many things to do, like walking to the pub, having a drink with your mate, and walking back home from the pub. There’s also the church and the crazy old lady whose proclamations of upcoming death may or may not come true. Ever wanted to have breakfast with a donkey inside your home or have a human finger lobbed at your front doorstep? Then Inisherin is just the place for you.
In the early 1900s during the Irish Civil War, The Banshees of Inisherin stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as two friends who like to drink pints together and have sparkling conversations with one another. Well, part of that is genuine. Padriac (Farrell) believes his friendship with Colm (Gleeson) is as strong today as it was yesterday. However, when Padriac arrives and Colm’s house for their 2 pm pub walk, Colm doesn’t answer, which leads to Padriac’s paranoia as to whether or not they have a row. The bartender of the pub has no answer, nor Dominic, the local constable’s son (Barry Keoghan), and it takes Padriac’s sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon) to ask him, “maybe he just doesn’t like you anymore.” This is confirmed by Colm when confronted by Padriac that he indeed doesn’t like him anymore because he finds he does nothing but waste time with him rather than focusing on things that will last, mainly writing music.
From there, the film almost becomes a dark, hilarious game of chicken, with Colm telling Padriac at one point that if he doesn’t leave him alone. The threat made is simple but emphatic: he will cut off each of his fingers individually, starting on his dominant playing hand, until Padriac understands he is serious. He finds his conversations to be a time-wasting endeavor, that he isn’t all that interesting, and for what it’s worth, neither Padriac, Siobhan, or the rest of the pub patrons believe he would be that serious.
Much like in the 2008 film In Bruges, The Banshees of Inisherin works on the backs of the biting screenplay from McDonagh and the performances of Farrell and Gleeson. The two leads have a very Odd Couple/Grumpy Old Men dynamic where one is more lovable and free-spirited while the other still likes to have fun but is much more stoic. Somehow, the onscreen chemistry of Farrell and Gleeson aged like a fine wine over the last fourteen years because there isn’t a beat that gets missed. That being said, the performances of Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan should not go overlooked. Condon, as Siobhan, gives Padriac a sense of grounding and a way for him to slow down before making decisions, while Keoghan, as the town goof Dominic, is almost the devil on his shoulder.
If there is one minor issue that I do have with the film, it is that the third act turns from being a more darkly humorous film to a darkly dramatic film that feels too sharp and doesn’t give time for audiences to adjust. You, as the audience, get so used to quippy one-liners and snappy monologues for the first three-quarters of the film that when you lose that dynamic almost immediately, it can be jarring. Some may be turned off by the ambiguity of the film’s ending, but if anyone knows McDonagh, he typically likes to leave audiences with more questions than answers.
Thanks to the performances by a stellar cast, a beautiful score from Carter Burwell, and lush cinematography from Ben Davis, The Banshees of Inisherin will be an awards contender when that time of year comes around. This is one of Martin McDonagh’s best films, and some could argue it is his best. This is a must-watch film when it gets released in October, and it is one of my favorites from this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
Grade: 4.5/5 (A)
The Banshees of Inisherin had its premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival on September 12th and will be released in North America on October 21st from Searchlight Pictures.