The Banshees of Inisherin review: Martin McDonagh’s most mature film yet
The new film is all the better for being a complex cocktail rather than a simple, sweary farce.
14 years after his crime drama debut In Bruges, writer/director Martin McDonagh has reunited with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, only this time it’s different. Once again his work follows a pair of Irishmen, and the script is so profane it’s almost poetic, but instead of hitmen’s murderous exploits it’s about a squabble between friends in the 1920s — and the result is arguably McDonagh’s most mature film yet.
On the fictional Aran island of Inisherin in 1923, Pádraic (Colin Farrell) is a cow farmer who meets his friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson) every day at 2pm to drink Guinness and while away time in the local pub. They make an odd pair, with Pádraic perhaps not the sharpest tool in the box and Colm a thoughtful and brooding chap with a love of music - but by all accounts they are close. That is until, one day, Colm gives his pal the cold shoulder and tells him that their friendship is over. "I just don’t like you no more," he tells him callously.
When Pádraic doesn’t get the message, however, Colm ups the ante and pledges to lop off one of his own fingers every time Pádraic talks to him from now on. Forget raising your voice, nothing says you’re serious quite like self-mutilation, it seems.
As gossip is a form of currency on Inisherin, the feud is soon the talk of the pub, and the period setting allows McDonagh to do the kind of foul-mouthed linguistic grandstanding you would expect from the writer of the Oscar-winning Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. However, across Galway Bay the Civil War is raging — and this backdrop is key to how The Banshees of Inisherin stealthily unfurls into an allegorical film that’s much more than a black comedy about a break-up between friends.
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From wallowing by the fire with his donkey to drunkenly confronting Colm, Farrell is the perfect self-pitying hangdog, as confusion and hurt find a perfect home on his expressive and bushy brows. In a career littered with characters asking Farrell to go big — with recent examples in The North Water and The Batman — Pádraic is arguably one of his greatest roles, as the 46-year-old dials it down for a sad-eyed performance of pathos and depth.
As for Gleeson, he too is treading new ground. In Bruges saw him play a cynical hitman but on Inisherin, Gleeson takes world-weariness to new heights. With Colm suffering from such melancholy that his priest asks him "How’s the despair?" during confession, Gleeson is a captivating and commanding screen presence.
That said, don’t let the marketing fool you: this is not a film belonging solely to its star pair. Alongside Jenny the scene-stealing donkey, Kerry Condon is outstanding as Siobhán, Pádraic’s sister and the film’s voice of reason, and Barry Keoghan is cannily cast as the tragicomic village "gam" — a young, dim-witted goon.
As the stakes rise in the third act, Inisherin becomes increasingly eerie and the story morphs into a macabre parable about the Irish civil war with an almost folkloric atmosphere — and the message and meaning behind McDonagh’s writing will have audiences ruminating as much as Pádraic agonises over Colm’s actions.
The film’s refusal to provide easy answers may disenchant viewers hoping for a conclusion as dramatic as those in McDonagh’s previous dramas, but The Banshees of Inisherin is all the better for being a complex cocktail rather than a simple, sweary farce. In fact, although it might amuse more than most comedies, by the end, McDonagh’s film is so brilliantly knotty and troubling that it feels like no laughing matter.
The Banshees of Inisherin is released in UK cinemas on Friday 21st October 2022. Check out more of our Film coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.
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