The small Irish island of Inisherin, 1923. Pádraic (Farrell) and Colm (Gleeson) have been friends for as long as anyone can remember. But one day, while civil war rages on the mainland nearby, Colm suddenly announces that the friendship is over. Pádraic is confused and devastated, while Colm starts taking incomprehensibly drastic measures.
How do you break up with a best friend? It’s a good question, tackled brilliantly by Seinfeld way back in its first season. After all, the rules of social disengagement are pretty clear when it comes to sexual relationships, even more so when they involve divorce. But separating from a buddy you just don’t like anymore? When the pair of you live on a small, scantily populated island with only one pub? How do you go about that?
In Martin McDonagh’s world, the answer is: brutally. After resolving to dissolve his friendship with the dependable but dull Pádraic (Colin Farrell), Colm (Brendan Gleeson) bluntly tells his ex-friend he doesn’t want talk to him or drink with him ever again. No explanation given. No attempt made to soften the blow. Of course, if you’re familiar with writer-director McDonagh’s previous film work, from In Bruges to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, such tactlessness should come as no surprise — McDonagh’s scripts are so abrasive, you could use them as sandpaper. So the focus of the film is less on Colm’s decision, and more on Pádraic’s reaction, not to mention the impact it has on his “limited” (another character’s word, not ours) life.
Ironically, for a story about a friendship-wreck, The Banshees Of Inisherin is also a reunion: of McDonagh with the double act that made the hitman antics of In Bruges such a piquant treat. However, Farrell and Gleeson don’t spend nearly as much time on screen together here, for self-evident reasons. It’s a shame, in a small way, but it does add to the pervading sense of wrongness.
Colm is largely inscrutable, despite the occasional revelation of sorts, and the odd flash of kindliness. McDonagh never fully reveals what drives him to the Pádraic-alienating extremes he goes to later in the film, and that makes him the more emotionally distant of the two men.
This is primarily Pádraic’s story; the tale of a good, decent fella who, through an enforced process of self-examination, finds and embraces other, sharper facets to his personality. Farrell is fantastic in the role, delivering one of his best-ever performances. He takes on a kind of sagging anti-charisma, a seeming guilelessness which he initially plays for laughs, but then gradually and convincingly brews into something much darker.
Complementing him perfectly is Kerry Condon as Pádraic’s savvy sister, Siobhan. Her exasperation at her brother’s response to Colm’s ultra-dick move is thoroughly relatable, and you’ll welcome every moment she spends on screen. Siobhan also evokes the most sympathy as a woman who has clearly, desperately outgrown this cliff- edged, wall-scarred speck of an island — a realisation only underlined by the clumsy amorous attentions of Barry Keoghan’s damaged youth, Dominic, a character that sadly gets the shortest narrative shrift of the bunch.
Tenderly scored by Carter Burwell and gorgeously shot by cinematographer Ben Davis — the drama may be intimate, but the backdrop feels epic — The Banshees Of Inisherin is a film whose unhurried pace never drags. It is, we suppose, McDonagh’s gentlest offering yet (and the fact that his gentlest film involves acts of mutilation says a lot about his other work). That said, you could also argue it is his first war movie. And not just because it is set during the Irish Civil War of 1922-23, which is heard raging just a few miles across the water. After all, Colm and Pádraic’s split is really just that war in microcosm. The causes are obscure and confusing, the emerging conflict escalates fast, the previously close participants employ tactics that would have once been unthinkable. And the after-effects will be felt for years to come.
McDonagh has never been one for neat resolutions, so it’s not giving anything away to say that we’re denied one here, too. This is no bromantic-comedy, and you really shouldn’t be hoping for any feel-good vibes (though there are plenty of laughs, if your humour verges on the dark side). But the film is engrossing and beautifully mounted, and is sure to not disappoint anyone who’s enjoyed McDonagh’s previous rough rides.
Source: The Banshees Of Inisherin