Martin McDonagh’s new film “The Banshees of Inisherin” is a modest but undeniably compelling mix of comedy, tragedy, and some violence as you can expect from him. As calmly and morbidly presenting how one kind of relationship is gradually turned into another kind between its two different main characters, the movie ably pulls us into their problematic situation, and you will admire how dexterously it leads them to the inevitable conclusion of their little feud.
Set in a fictional Irish island named Inisherin during the 1920s, the movie begins with a sudden unexpected change between Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) and his close friend Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) on one day. Just because he does not want to spend time with Pádraic anymore, Colm decides to end his longtime friendship with Pádraic, and Pádraic becomes quite perplexed as wondering why his friend does not like him now. He later tries to approach to Colm more than once, but Colm adamantly refuses him, and he also says that he will do something very drastic if Pádraic attempts to talk with him again.
More baffled than ever, Pádraic tries to understand his friend’s adamant refusal to talk with him, though Colm makes it very clear to Pádraic that he simply wants to focus more on composing his folk music during the rest of life. Feeling a sudden hole inside his mundane daily life, Pádraic becomes more obsessed with getting his friend back, and his sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon) and a local lad named Dominic Kearney (Barry Keoghan) are willing to help Pádraic to some degree.
However, the situation becomes all the worse as Pádraic tries more and more for getting close to Colm again, and Colm becomes quite angry and frustrated because he ironically finds himself interacting a lot more with Pádraic than he wanted. As he sharply points out as one point, he did not mind how dull Pádraic actually is, but now he puts his artistic activities way above his relationship with Pádraic, which is a lot more inconsequential to him than before. Pádraic cannot accept this at all, while feeling quite hurt and exasperated behind his passive aggressive attitude.
With the ongoing civil war in the distant background, the mood becomes more intense and brooding step by step, and McDonagh’s screenplay carefully builds up narrative momentum as letting us get to know more about its two main characters and their isolated little world. Like many of others around them, they have been stuck there for many years, and we come to discern more of how important Colm was to Pádraic’s mundane daily life. After all, he needs someone to talk with beside his sister, and he is not consoled much by spending some time with Dominic, while his sister turns out to have been quite eager to get out of the island as soon as possible.
The main surprise in the movie comes from how much Pádraic and Colm push and pull each other throughout the story, so I will be more discreet about what happens next between them, but I can tell you that you will get exactly what you can expect from McDonagh, who previously gave us “In Bruges” (2008) and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (2017). Thanks to his sharp and efficient handing of story and characters, the movie constantly holds our attention despite its leisurely narrative pacing, and that is the main reason why several sudden moments of violence in the film are dramatically effective. At one certain crucial narrative point, the movie does not flinch at all from a little gruesome moment involved with Colm’s grim bow, and you will wince as seeing how that moment leads to a more disturbing moment later in the story.
The movie depends a lot on the darkly amusing comic chemistry between Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, who previously worked together in “In Bruges”. During last 20 years, Farrell has steadily demonstrated his considerable talent and presence as appearing a number of acclaimed films such as Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (2017) and Kogonada’s “After Yang” (2022), and he is simply terrific in his seemingly plain but undeniably rich and engaging performance which recently garnered him the Best Actor award at the Venice International Film Festival. As watching how he skillfully handles his character’s incorrigible obtuseness throughout the film, I wonder whether McDonagh told Farrell something similar to what John Huston often said to Jack Nicholson on the set of Huston’s penultimate film “Prizzi’s Honor” (1985): “Remember, he’s stupid”.
On the opposite, Gleeson, who will surely be Oscar-nominated like his co-star, is a fantastic acting partner to say the least, and he is equally terrific as phlegmatically embodying his character’s deep stubbornness. As he and Farrell clash with each other in one way or another, they are supported well by a number of colorful performers, and Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan, a young promising Irish actor who previously appeared along with Farrell in “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”, did a commendable job of holding each own small place around Farrell and Gleeson.
In conclusion, “The Banshees of Inisherin” is quite an absorbing piece of work as swinging back and forth between absurd comedy and intense drama, and McDonagh pulls off another notable success just like he did in his previous films. I really enjoyed how the story and characters move from one memorable moment to another with the growing sense of inevitability, and I am still reflecting on the eventual ending of the film, which incidentally takes me back to that famous line in Orson Welles’ great film “Citizen Kane” (1941): “Only you’re going to need more than one lesson. And you’re going to get more than one lesson.”