THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Martin McDonagh

Stars: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan, Gary Lydon, Sheila Flitton, Brid Ni Neachtain, Pat Shortt.

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The fourth film from Irish playwright turned filmmaker Martin McDonagh, The Banshees Of Inisherin reunites the acclaimed director with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, the two stars of In Bruges, his gritty black comedy crime drama from 2008.  

Set in the 1920s, the drama takes place on Inisherin, a fictional small picturesque remote island located about 20 miles off the west coast of Ireland. This is a small and tight-knit community where nothing much ever happens, but where everybody knows everybody’s business. The main activities here seem to be farming and drinking, and there’s plenty of the latter. But over on the mainland the Civil War continues, and the occasional sounds of cannon fire reach the residents. 

Colm Doherty (Gleeson) is a folk musician who has been a close friend and drinking buddy of Padraic Suilleabhain (Farrell), a dairy farmer, for years. But one day Colm feels that life is passing him by and decides that he wants to spend more time on his music, creating a legacy to be remembered by. He politely tells Padraic that he doesn’t want to be friends anymore and asks Padraic not to talk to him anymore. He warns that if Padraic persists in trying to talk to him there will be dire consequences. When Padraic seems reluctant to just abandon years of friendship on a whim and tries to talk the issue over and learn the real reason behind Colm’s behaviour, Colm threatens to cut off one of his own fingers every time Padraic persists in talking to him.  

The tension between the two men increases and it affects the community, and their fractured relationship somehow seems to be a metaphor for the sectarian divisions in Ireland at that time. Padraic’s long suffering younger sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon, from McDonagh’s Three Billboards, etc), who shares their parent’s tiny cottage with him, is disturbed by Colm’s action, and she and deeply troubled local lad Dominic (Barry Keoghan, from The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, etc) try to mediate between the pair, with little success.  

Performances from the main cast are excellent, and even some of the peripheral characters make a mark on the material. There is superb chemistry between Farrell and Gleeson. This is easily one of Farrell’s best performances as his Padraic struggles to understand why his best friend has rejected him, and he brings a poignant quality and a sadness to the role. As usual Gleeson is superb as a man who has made up his mind and is unbending. Familiar with playing psychologically and emotionally damaged young men, Keoghan brings a touch of empathy to his performance as Dominic, the disturbed son of Peadar (Gary Lydon), the brutal local policeman who has issues of his own. Condon is also strong as Siobhan, who dreams of a better life beyond Inisherin, but finds herself trapped. 

The Banshees Of Inisherin is a deceptively simple story, but there is a lot happening beneath the surface of this dark and bleak black comedy, and it delivers a solid emotional punch as it delves into the complex relationship between the quirky characters. The film is a touching allegory for loneliness and war, but it also touches on the causes of violence (a theme familiar to his previous films), alcoholism and domestic violence. The snappy dialogue is superbly delivered in droll fashion by the small but effective cast. This is a visually impressive film, and it has been beautifully shot by McDonagh’s regular cinematographer Ben Davis, who captures the harsh beauty of the remote windswept coastal setting and gives us a strong sense of place. Music plays an important part in the film, and Carter Burwell’s jaunty score gives the material a deceptively light feeling at times. Mark Tildesley’s superb production design is also evocative. 

★★★★

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