16 April 2024

Film Review – The Banshees Of Inisherin (2022)

That writer/director Martin McDonagh has just four feature films to his name is almost impossible to believe. His career as a playwright is theatre’s gain and cinema’s loss – and we’re left in no doubt of that every time he makes a movie. It’s been five years since the Oscar-winning Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – he won for Best Original Screenplay – and he returns with what is probably his best film yet.

He re-unites Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, the two stars of his breakout movie, In Bruges (2008) for the darkest of tragi-comedies, The Banshees Of Inisherin. Essentially the story of a break-up, it’s set on the tiny island of Inisherin, where life ambles along while civil war continues over the water on mainland Ireland. Padraic (Farrell) and Colm (Gleeson) are lifelong friends and drinking buddies, passing most of their time in each other’s company. Until the day when it all changes. For seemingly no reason, Colm calls an abrupt halt to their friendship, something Padraic cannot understand or accept. His efforts to put things right make no difference and when Colm can stand no more of his former friend’s persistence, he makes a threat that nobody believes he will carry out.

Breaking up with your closest friend doesn’t come with a set of rules – unlike a romantic relationship or, more formally, a marriage. And when it takes place on a tiny island where everybody knows everybody else’s business, it feels like it’s played out under the unforgiving intensity of a microscope. For the decent but dull Padraic, it’s all the more acute when Colm tells him he’s done nothing wrong and delivers the most cutting of reasons. “I just don’t like you no more.” What follows is something close to a personal war between the two, echoing the events on the mainland which occasionally intrude on the island’s rural quiet with an explosion or two. It’s also an island where there are probably more animals than people: they’re always in the frame, sometimes observing the goings-on between the two men, sometimes playing an active part.

In a film about friendship and loneliness – and the loneliness there can be in a friendship – the focus is on the two men going their very separate ways. It comes as no surprise that Farrell and Gleeson don’t disappoint. Both are superb, Farrell especially as he carves out a niche for himself at breathing life into the most ordinary and almost colourless of characters. Gleeson is more distant and sparing with his words. You wonder how the two became friends in the first place. But this is no two-hander: Barry Keoghan gives a perfectly judged turn as the damaged Dominic, one moment downright irritating and the next touchingly vulnerable, and Kerry Condon as Padraic’s sister is the only person on the island blessed with common sense and a smattering of ambition.

It’s bleak and it’s sad, true. But this is also a comedy in McDonagh’s trademark style – brutal at times but so well observed that it makes you wince while you’re smiling. There are laugh-out-loud moments as well as chuckles and giggles and if you’ve spotted a van emoji popping up on Tweets about the film, it refers to its most devilish gag, one that brings the house down. Don’t expect a nice, neat resolution. That’s not McDonagh’s style. The Banshees Of Inisherin is as dark as a pint at the island’s local. It’s savagely funny and achingly sad and something of a gem.

★★★★★


Comedy | Cert: 15 | UK cinemas from 21 October 2022 | Searchlight Pictures | Dir. Martin McDonagh | Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Barry Keoghan, Kerry Condon.


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