The Banshees of Inisherin: A Look at a Friendship Lost

The Banshees of Inisherin reunites Martin McDonagh with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson for the first time since 2008’s In Bruges. This film is excellent, with a tight script, fantastic visuals and stunning performances from Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Barry Keoghan, and Kerry Condon.

We are first introduced to Pádraic (Colin Farrell) a simple island dweller who derives pleasure from taking care of his animals, and frequent trips to the pub with his close friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson). All this is ended one day when Colm decides that he no longer likes Pádraic and wants nothing to do with him.

Colin Farrell and Barry Keoghan in Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees Of Inisherin. (Credit: Searchlight Pictures)

McDonagh’s script brings a lot of quiet pathos to this story but that doesn’t stop it from being hilariously funny at points. Dominic (Barry Keoghan), the island’s resident ‘dunce’, has some of the funniest and saddest moments.

At one point Dominic invites Pádraic over for a bottle of poteen only to find Dominic’s father naked and passed out in the middle of the living room. Dominic tries to assuage Pádraic’s surprise by telling him not to worry: this is just what happens when his dad decides to have a drink and a wank. As the story unfolds we learn that drinking and wanking aren’t the only vices that Dominic’s policeman father indulges in, with depressing results.

All of the actors here are marvellous to watch, but Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are a cut above the rest. Colin Farrell manages to add an incredible depth to Pádraic. He is at once both a puppy dog who just wants companionship and a man who is trying to fight his feelings of depression and isolation.

As the film progresses we see a change in Pádraic. A coldness creeps into the character, and it is a testament to Colin Farrell that this change is done slowly and purposefully.

Brendan Gleeson’s Colm is a man who is facing the end of his life. He is questioning what he did with his life: will he be remembered, if so by whom and for how long?  This question is what initially leads to the rift between the two former friends. Even though he initially declines that he is feeling despair, the scowl on his face throughout the film betrays him.

Brendan Gleeson moves as though he is carrying a great weight, one built by self imposed expectations. His words smash through Pádraic with the bluntness of a hammer to the face, and I can’t imagine anyone else delivering these lines. 

Besides the leads, this film is held up by its supporting cast. Kerry Condon plays Pádraic’s incredibly bright and done with this place sister Siobhán. Often the voice of reason, Kerry Condon is a great straight man calling out the ludicrousness prevalent all over the island. Siobhán is deep and there is a lot of meat there for the actor to chew on, but this film isn’t about her. In the end we are left thinking that there was a whole other film going on that we never got to see.

Martin McDonagh’s last two films left the shores of Europe and were planted firmly in the United States. 3 Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri and 7 Psychopaths, were well acted with a great cast and amazing scripts. However there was a lack of connection between the director and the setting. You can tell that Martin McDonagh has more than an affinity for Ireland, and that sensibility comes off in his writing as well as how he decides to represent the country.

Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell in Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees Of Inisherin. (Credit: Searchlight Pictures)

In The Banshees of Inisherin, the location is a character of its own. Cinematographer Ben Davis emphasises the isolation, and coldness of living on a tiny island off the coast of Ireland. The saying ‘every frame is a painting’ is doubly true here. Whether it is an abandoned cottage drenched in god rays, a perfectly composed shot of the beautiful Irish countryside, or even a freshly dug grave site. Ben Davis treats every shot with such an attention to detail, that you are always in the moment.

Martin Mcdonagh knows how to make that perfect tragicomedy, where one minute you are on the floor and the next you’re on the brink of tears. If you are looking for a film that deals with existential dread while at the same time makes you laugh about a casualty involving a bread van you can’t do any better than this.

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