By Matthew Moorcroft
- Directed by Martin McDonagh
- Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan
I know it’s going to be weird starting off a review about The Banshees of Inisherin by talking about yet more Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri discourse, but here me out.
Three Billboards, admittedly, is the rare movie that has soured for me over time. I still quite like it a lot – it’s got stellar performances (some of the best of it’s year), is wickedly witty and funny, and has a level of ambiguity about it’s own subject matter that feels a little refreshing. At least at the time. Since it’s release though and the following years since, it’s gone from “wow this is one of the best of it’s year” to “yeah it’s really solid” and that’s mainly due to McDonagh’s inability to handle it’s racial politics well. It was dated as soon as it came out, and in the wake of the BLM movement and greater scrutiny against police officers the movie comes off as quaint at best.
I bring this up cause The Banshees of Inisherin, outside of being something of a return to basics for McDonagh in coming back to Ireland with a smaller, more intimate cast (this is far more like his plays then his prior films), definitely feels like McDonagh grappling with his own proclivities towards cynicism and nihilism. While all of McDonagh’s stories are, inherently, about sad people going through the ringer and trying to find some meaning with the pointlessness, The Banshees of Inisherin is uniquely sad in that it takes that premise and now puts it on an outside observer, the one who seems to have found his meaning. But what happens when that’s suddenly taken away? And thus, we meet Pádraic, a kind if dull everyman in the smallest Irish village known to man trying to make due in the midst of the Irish Civil War. And then his best friend cuts ties with him. Why? Cause that very reason – he’s too nice and dull.
The beauty of this premise, which otherwise feels like a plot point in a grander story that’s just used here as a springboard, is that it’s the perfect outlet for McDonagh to really allow these characters to spiral. Is being nice really such a bad thing? Is it instead simply good to be remembered, whether that be through fame or some kind of achievement? Or was this all caused simply because men can’t just sit down and talk to each other for once? It’s very likely the last part, though it’s more then simply just toxic masculinity. Instead, we have here an exploration of male loneliness and that overwhelming sense of being alone, emphasized all the more by the fact that these characters are literally alone in the smallest Irish village known to man. There is only the pub, their animals, and their friends. Lose any and all of that? They literally have nothing.
Outside of stunning cinematography by Ben Davis – free of his shackles at the MCU for just a little bit (even if his MCU work ranks as some of the better shot films of that universe) – the film is mostly punctuated by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson’s sublime performances. The comedic timing is nigh perfect here, with both Farrell and Gleeson having great friendly chemistry while also having great antagonistic chemistry. But it honestly ends up being Farrell’s time to shine here as he slips further and further into darkness. His slow descent into vicious fueding and hidden depths of anger are a mix of genuinely terrifying while also earnest and compelling. On the supporting end, Keoghan is predictably great, and Kerry Condon is so good here that she might meet with Farrell at points. Her role is one of the key secret ingredients – the only one fed up with the island and wanting to actually make something of herself while both Pádraic and Colm fight each other for a seeming eternity.
And once it reaches it’s climax – one that in retrospect seemed inevitable, like a powder keg waiting to go off – it’s not cathartic. In fact, it doesn’t really do anything in the long run, and instead just leaves our two leads even more bitter then before, begging the question as to why? And why indeed, for when man becomes obsessed with his own folly he become detached from reality, and begins to lose sight of himself. It’s a thought-provoking final shot that closes us out, and leaves our banshees of Inisherin alone and mourning.
Is The Banshees of Inisherin McDonagh’s finest work? Hard to say, as I don’t wanna make that assumption just yet as I said the same about Three Billboards back in 2017 only for me to rescind that over the years, but something about this feels like a modern classic in the making. Supremely funny, entertaining while also breathtaking in both it’s shot compositions and sadness; it’s pitch perfect on almost every front frankly, and it’s hard to argue against. Excellent!