The Banshees of Inisherin review: 2022’s funniest and darkest comedy



The Banshees of Inisherin is a return to familiar territory for writer-director Martin McDonagh: it stars as a witty sequel to his 2008 dark comedy-thriller In Brugge. This film, McDonagh’s feature debut, stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as hitmen hiding in a version of Bruges designed to look like a Catholic purgatory. Farrell and Gleeson also lead Banshees, another fun and clever tale driven by existential dread. This time around, they play much simpler men – a farmer and a musician, respectively – but they have the same angst as their assassin counterparts, resulting in a film that maintains a spiritual hold on its audience, despite the lovely setting.

Finally, McDonagh (more recently the writer-director of Three billboards outside of Ebbing, Missouri) attempts to ground its abstract mortality themes in the literal details of the story, causing the tension to dissipate. But the film is such a rich and emotionally detailed text that not sticking on landing is only a minor mark against it.

Shot on the Irish islands of Inishmore and Achill – which stand in for the fictional island of Inisherin – the film is both timeless and picturesque. Angelic chorus notes mark the opening scene, which follows Pádraic Súilleabháin (Farrell) on a routine walk along the lush paths of Inisherin in the early 20th century. He asks his friend Colm Doherty (Gleeson) to invite him to the local pub for a pint, as per their usual routine. But the picturesque vision of paradise does not last. Without spending a single moment on their backstory, McDonagh paints a vivid portrait of a friendship that has inexplicably crumbled, as Colm has decided – seemingly overnight – that he wants absolutely nothing to do with Pádraic. , and he’s not afraid to be upfront about it.

Pádraic, bewildered by Colm’s sudden rebuffs, can’t help but follow through and keep contacting him, despite everyone’s advice to the contrary. This is where things take a macabre turn. To keep Pádraic away for good, Colm threatens to cut off a finger from his own violin hand every time Pádraic tries to talk to him.

Photo: Jonathan Hession/Spotlight Pictures

Each scene is staged with an eye for emotional repression and an ear for rhythmic dialogue and its subtext about death and what lies beyond – exactly the same driving forces that made In Brugge so captivating. McDonagh remains alert to Farrell’s bewildered attempts to put two and two together. His journey from denial to realization breeds sympathy, as he tries to make sense of a relationship thrown into sudden disarray, and deals with the hidden possibility that closure will forever remain out of reach. Each desperate attempt to find answers is as much about discerning Colm’s motives as it is allowing Pádraic to uncover potential truths about himself. Who among us hasn’t wondered what we did so wrong that made us so worthy of someone else’s wrath?

But even once those cards seem to be on the table, Farrell’s construction of Pádraic continues to work in tandem with McDonagh’s meandering text. Colm, a self-proclaimed artist, prefers to spend time writing music instead of making pointless conversation, although it takes him some time to articulate his true reasoning. In the meantime, Farrell’s performance reflects the nuances of the potential charges and implications of Colm’s cold shoulder. Is Colm too intellectual for Pádraic? Is Pádraic too naive? Was there a slur or a drunken insult that he doesn’t fully remember?

Regardless, Farrell’s quiet moments portray Pádraic as an easily amused man who maintains a touching friendship with his farm animals. But Farrell really shines in the way he deepens even the most apparent traits of Pádraic. He layers every idiosyncrasy with a recognizable innocence as Pádraic begins to introspect himself. His conversational dynamism is polite and superficial, but it is enhanced by an apparent inability to string together the right words or connect the dots between two successive thoughts or emotions, even when they are full and rich. He’s always looking, more than the average person should. Then again, despite Colm’s more put-together facade, he’s still looking too. (Frequently at confession at the local church, where he is too dismissive of his talkative priest to find any real enlightenment or personal reflection.)

Pádraic (Colin Farrell) has a passionate heart-to-heart with his sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon) at the kitchen table of their dark little Irish cottage in The Banshees of Inisherin

Photo: Jonathan Hession/Spotlight Pictures

Pádraic’s harrowing quest for answers is an uphill battle, especially when he begins to interrogate the film’s rich tapestry of secondary characters – Pádraic’s educated sister, Siobhán (a measured Kerry Condon), the simple-minded Dominic (Killing of a sacred deer‘s Barry Keoghan, throwing his hat in the ring as modern-day Peter Lorre), and other pub goers, who navigate a fine line between non-confrontational and curious. All seem to get along well with Colm, which leaves Pádraic adrift, wondering if he is really responsible for the fallout. It’s hard not to be won over by Gleeson’s quietly menacing delivery, with harsh whispers that turn even desperate pleas for seclusion into contradictory threats.

Both men hold back their emotions, but Farrell and Gleeson are such generous performers that their real-life friendship infects every frame. This makes the characters’ moderate affinity for each other all the more tragic once the rift between friends is set in motion. This is especially evident during pub nights, where the camera catches hesitant glances between them, as Colm plays music and Pádraic drinks his sorrows. These glimpses imbue the film with borderline romantic warmth, which cinematographer Ben Davis paints with the faint flickers of candles and lamps.

Meanwhile, the seemingly timeless setting turns out to be very specific indeed. Explosions on the mainland in the distance reveal the film’s historical backdrop: the Irish Civil War in the early 1920s. he film’s story of a brother turning on his brother is a metaphor for conflict, albeit a fragile one. However, the overwhelming fate and sadness bring the mortality of the characters to the fore. Colm doesn’t say it right away, but his sudden desire to create and be remembered, like his idol Mozart, feels directly informed by the looming specter of death. (Or in Irish folklore, the film is slightly reminiscent of the banshee.) And Colm is dogged by an amusing but disturbing sequence of self-sabotage, given his threat to mutilate himself.

Colm (Brendan Gleeson) plays the fiddle at a local pub table in The Banshees of Inisherin

Photo: Jonathan Hession/Spotlight Pictures

Both men are forced to reflect on themselves and what they bring to those around them – one through larger political events and the other through personal grievances. The more these reflections yield starkly opposite results, the more Pádraic and Colm’s encounters become fertile ground for festering tensions over how to navigate the modern world when all seems lost. Colm wants to create. Pádraic simply wants to exist. In the face of death and loneliness, perhaps neither choice is better than the other.

McDonagh channels all of these philosophical reflections through his scenic sensibility and penchant for the ebb and flow of words. He often captures these verbal and emotional beats by emphasizing the characters rather than cutting between them, as if the film’s visual aesthetic were its own captivating melody. The actual music swings in the opposite direction, with Carter Burwell adding a sense of mischief and mystery through strings plucked a bit too aggressively, as if Colm is weaving the film’s auditory tissue while trying to fend off Pádraic’s advances.

The film uses humorous repetition to cope with its dismal weight and to hammer home the sheer weirdness of its premise, resulting in one of the darkest and funniest films of 2022. But McDonagh doesn’t quite find the right way. to string all of its heavy themes together once it enters its final act. As the story unfolds, McDonagh’s absurdist playwright surges to the fore in a way he hasn’t seen in any of his movies since. In Brugge. Banshees retains the undertones of dark humor he brought to his 2001 play The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which, although set in the early 90s, is also set against the backdrop of the Irish sectarian conflict, and similarly features an animal-loving protagonist named Pádraic. The problem, however, arises when McDonagh tries to graft the play’s Pádraic, and his violent emotional trajectory, onto his more sober cinematic counterpart, when the two have only their name in common.

As McDonagh tries to put words to his ethereal themes of mortality and remembrance in The Banshees of Inisherin, it ends up reading as an attempt to ground intangible spiritual dilemmas in concrete reasoning and definitive emotional paths. It mostly comes from a last-minute coincidence that seems largely out of touch with its characters. All of this makes the story more didactic and moralistic than the first two acts suggest.

Still, it’s surprisingly appropriate that the film strays into trying to express the inexpressible and trying to put words to emotions that Colm struggles to express. It’s hard to know how to talk about the lingering fear of how the future will remember us once we pass. And until it veers off course, there remains a nuanced expression of that idea in the present, making its characters curdle and contort as they begin to believe they’re running out of time.

Nobody in this movie is really a good person. Almost everyone is mean or irreverent in some way. What makes them such a fascinating watch is their constant search for some semblance of kindness, understanding or meaning in a place and time where few of these things exist. With its striking tonal balance, rich performance and layered introspection, The Banshees of Inisherin represents McDonagh at his best, creating a complex work that captures the strange spectrum of human emotions felt at death’s door.

The Banshees of Inisherin opens in theaters in limited release on October 21, with a nationwide rollout to follow over the coming weeks.

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