In the 21st century, good friends are hard to come by. I’m talking about the type of friends that you can share complete silence with and never have the moment feel awkward or forced juxtaposed to sharing common interests whether it be music, films, or sports teams. Or in this case, going to a local pub and having a pint of beer together. Bonds that are forged early on and never once break, only bend slightly. The same is true in the early 20th century Ireland, more accurately in 1923 during the latter half of the Irish Civil War, on the fictitious island of Inisherin. Set against a breathtaking lush backdrop of the countryside shot by Ben Davis, we as the viewer are immediately thrust into an intimate world of familiarity.
The Banshees of Inisherin exudes the intimacy of a small town or village where you can walk outside and everyone knows your name and complete family history – where you were born, at what time and the doctor who carried out the procedure. No one’s business is private, unless secrets are only told to the various farm animals roaming around the tiny island.
And for those well liked, like Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell), a local milk farmer who lives with his sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon), the thought of being disliked is completely far-fetched. In the film’s opening minutes, Pádraic makes his way to his friend’s cottage, another local named Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) in which Pádraic knocks and no answer is given. Colm is sitting in a chair, smoking and ignoring the knock at the door and window. Channeling her inner oracle, Siobhán offers a simple solution to Pádraic being ignored – “What if he don’t like you no more”. Director Martin McDonagh’s early 20th century version of ghosting or unfriending someone on social media.
For almost the entirety of the 114-minute runtime, Colm’s time is spent ignoring Pádaric, writing a new folk song and handing out ultimatums to his former friend who he doesn’t want to associate with anymore. The ultimatum being if Pádaric keeps with his persistence in attempting to talk to Colm, then Colm will cut off a finger off his left hand, with sheep sheers, one at a time in the hope that Pádaric will understand the message. An ultimatum that is fascinatingly childish because Pádaric didn’t necessarily do anything to offend Colm. McDonagh brilliantly writes a compelling and poignant tale around this one increasingly disturbing former friendship.
A friendship that was fine the day previously. McDonagh’s script from the opening moment is well thought out and executed by the strength of the two stars performances.
From Pádaric’s point of view, not having a friend like you or want to stop all communication along with consequences is truly puzzling. Pádaric could have easily spent each waking moment going over every little detail in his head about what he could have done to deserve such treatment. Friends of Pádaric ask if the pair have been rowing and to Pádaric’s confusion, he says no. Something within us all begs for acceptance from our peers, we all want to be liked by everyone and can’t stand the thought of anyone hating us.
From Colm’s point of view, He understands how precious life is in the limited time we have on earth. Colm would rather have complete peace, writing songs in his last few remaining years than spend it drinking at a pub everyday with someone he considers dull. Extreme as his methods are, Colm has a point – peace is worth more than any relationship if you are unhappy. The differing ideologies propel McDonagh’s film forward in a whirlwind of confusion from the few that are attempting to rectify the relationship. Aside from Siobhán, a local troubled youth named Dominic (Barry Keoghan) makes his feeble attempts to stop the violence while simultaneously facing his own issues.
Reuniting with his In Bruges stars, McDonagh’s skill behind the camera translates into Farrell and Gleeson’s performances. With the violent undertone, McDonagh’s script has no shortcoming of unexpected laughs. One moment, The Banshees of Inisherin will be disturbing and then the next, side-splittingly funny, balancing out the severity with levity. All with cannon fire in the distance reminding our characters how out of hand a feud can get. Both Farrell and Gleeson are magnetic together. For two people on the brink of self-inflicted annihilation, their character counterparts are drawn to one another – despite from living in the same small town and living in close proximity.
Earlier this year, Robert Eggers released his 3rd film The Northman and to the meticulous detail of the film, Eggers only light sources came from sunlight and flaming torches. That same verisimilitude of the period is used by McDonagh. In some instances, the deep dark contrast gets more detail than a direct light source. In keeping with the tone, bleakness washes over the village, heightened by Colm’s ultimatum. The only light source comes by candlelight and the sun. The small isle of Inisherin is behind on technological advances – letters arrive weeks later by snail mail while the main news source is off in the distance or passed on by other locals.
Overall, The Banshees of Inisherin is a finely tuned machine, running on all cylinders, led by 2 engrossing performances and a strong supporting cast. At the helm, McDonagh is a maestro, balancing dark with unexpected humor that fits the shoes of the characters walking in them. Both tragic and triumphant, the addition of Carter Burwell’s score captures a tune of tension and anxiety as the suspense in watching Colm keep his word unravels.
Screenplay By: Martin McDonagh
Directed By: Martin McDonagh
Music By: Carter Burwell
Cinematography: Ben Davis
Starring: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan, Pat Shortt, Jon Kenny
Release Date: October 21, 2022
Running Time: 1 Hour 49 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%