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‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ (review)

As the Civil War rages on the mainland in 1920s Ireland, Pádraic lives on the island of Inisherin where he enjoys the simple joys of life, particularly his friendship with the older Colm.

Until Colm suddenly decides he no longer wants to talk to Pádraic, that is.

Pádraic is at a loss as to why his friend has had this drastic change of heart about their friendship, and Colm does not appear to be interested in elaborating on his choice to sever ties with him either.

Having the seminal classic In Bruges in common, writer/director Martin McDonagh and actors Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson join forces once more in The Banshees of Inisherin, which tells the tale of a friendship falling apart, and how the situation escalates in unpredictable ways.

On the surface, the film is a comedy, and while it certainly generates plenty of genuine laughs due to McDonagh’s writing, there is also a tenderness to how the friendship is portrayed – which is particularly evident with how openly heartbroken Farrell’s Pádraic is about the circumstances – as well as an existential depth that gives the film ample gravitas.

Juxtaposing Farrell’s emotional Pádraic with Gleeson’s stoic Colm, Farrell gets to flex all his thespian talent with how he conveys the inner turmoil of the increasingly desperate Pádraic, whereas Gleeson gives the saying “still waters run deep” a renewed intensity, especially once he finally decides to open up about what it is that has made him so abruptly abandon Pádraic.

This juxtaposition not only lends plenty of nuance to the story itself, it also ensures that the tension of the situation keeps its momentum as the story unfolds with a constant bouncing back and forth between the seemingly mundane and shocking bursts of narrative surprises, all of which keeps the film engaging and unpredictable from start to finish.

As you may have gathered, the performances are stellar, and this is not only with regard to the leading men, but also several of the supporting actors, particularly Barry Keoghan’s awkward Dominic and Kerry Condon’s portrayal of Pádraic’s smart and assertive sister Siobhan.

In terms of visuals, every frame is a painting, not only thanks to the natural beauty of the location itself, but also with how the cinematography frames and lingers on the landscape, the light on people’s faces and all the unspoken emotion both a landscape and a face can convey without any dialogue to explicitly spell it out to the viewer being necessary.

Telling a story of a friendship falling apart often falls flat and because so many of these stories tend to become superficial comedies that merely seek to set up as many exaggeratedly awkward situations as possible before the inevitable reconcilitation with an overbaked display of saccharine emotions oozes out of the screen.

What McDonagh has achieved with The Banshees of Inisherin, however, is a sincere portrayal of how important our platonic relationships are to both our quality of life in general and our sense of self in particular.

Similarly, the film also raises existential questions of legacy and what actually matters in life.

Naturally, doing so runs the risk of becoming a filmmaker’s self-indulgent finger-wagging at the audience, however, what The Banshees of Inisherin instead does is take those seemingly mundane human emotions, thoughts and situations and elevates them to a truly exceptional story about life, friendship and grief, all told with such immense humor, heart and tenderness that it easily makes the film one of the very best of 2022.

Verdict: 10 of 10

*  *  *  *  *
Produced by Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin, Martin McDonagh
Written and Directed by Martin McDonagh 
Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan



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