The Banshees of Inisherin

Every day at two o’clock, Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) stops by the home of Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) on his way to Jonjo’s (Pat Shortt, "The Guard") pub, but one day Colm fails to answer the door, even though Pádraic can see him sitting inside.  Pádraic begins to wonder if he somehow ‘rowed’ with his best friend while drunk but when Colm arrives at Jonjo’s on his own, he assures his old friend that he did nothing wrong but he simply doesn’t like him anymore because he finds him dull and wants to spend what time he has left writing songs like the one he’s working on, “The Banshees of Inisherin.”

Laura's Review: A

It’s official - writer/director Martin McDonagh ("In Bruges," "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri") produces his best work when he casts Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson.  His latest, which sets a personal feud on a small island off Ireland’s coast against the Civil War raging on its mainland in 1923 begins with an almost light-hearted tone, dialogue repeated to comic, melodic beats, then gradually evolves into an epic tragedy.  “The Banshees of Inisherin” captures the soul of literary Ireland with its reflection of historical sweep in the psychology of everyday men.

Pádraic, a man known for his kindness and love of animals (his miniature donkey Jenny’s continual presence in their cottage annoys his sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon)) isn’t necessarily the smartest of men, but his sensitivity to others is marked and his friend’s rejection throws his entire world off its axis.  He’s reassured, when turning the calendar page the next day, he notes the day before was April 1 and running into Colm on the road jokes about it, expecting everything to return to normal.  When it doesn’t, Colm lays down the law in no uncertain terms – if Pádraic continues to talk to him, Colm will lop off one of his own fingers every day that he does, even if it impacts his ability to play his fiddle.    

McDonagh creates an entire rural village to support this drama, beginning with Mrs. McCormick (Sheila Flitton, "The Northman"), an old crone who portends death who both Pádraic and Siobhan avoid at all costs.  They have a village idiot of sorts in Dominic (Farrell's "The Batman" costar, Barry Keoghan, in another astonishing turn), an annoying presence Pádraic takes pity on, knowing of the physical and sexual abuse he receives at the hands of his dad, local cop Peadar Kearney (Gary Lydon, "The Guard").  Jonjo appears to have a Greek chorus of a twin brother in Gerry (Jon Kenny) and the local priest (David Pearse) gets caught in his confessional within the feud between his two parishioners (confessionals also were prominent with these same two in “In Bruges”).  Local storekeeper Mrs. O'Riordan (Bríd Ní Neachtain) favors trade in gossip, which she gets from Peadar but never the Súilleabháins, a frustration she repays by steaming open a fateful letter sent to Siobhan.

Cinematographer Ben Davis ("Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri") gives us rural 1920’s Ireland in all its glories, from its winding paths through rolling green, surf crashing against cliff rock and low-ceilinged interiors lit by fire and candlelight.  Composer Carter Burwell (“In Bruges”) utilizes bells and harp for a lilting score that avoids Irish cliché.  The titular piece of music played throughout the film is really Brendan Gleeson on the fiddle.

Gleeson’s somewhat enigmatic Colm isn’t entirely cold blooded, picking his old friend up and driving his horse cart home when he’s beaten on the street, but his obstinacy is as hard to fathom as Peadar’s excitement over being paid for a mainland execution when he can’t even remember which side of the war the condemned are on.  Condon, the film’s most intelligent go-between, is lovely here, a strong Irishwoman who doesn’t stand for guff but whose heart is as big as her brother’s, most beautifully expressed when Dominic, who aggravates her to no end, shores up the courage to express his love for her.  But this is Farrell’s film through and through, a heart-breaking portrait of how cruelty can evoke revenge in even the kindest of men.

Robin's Review: A-

In a small Irish town in 1923, during the Civil War, two best friends, Padraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson), are at an impasse and the latter unceremoniously ends their friendship of many years. Confused, Padraic enlists the help of friends to revive the friendship but things escalate out of control in “The Banshees of Inisherin.”

The camera descends through the clouds to reveal the ordered checkerboard of small farms ranging to the horizon. We are then grounded in the tiny fishing island of Inisherin as Padraic crosses the rugged landscape to his friend’s home. His knocks on the door go unanswered and, when he looks into the window, he sees Colm sitting and smoking a cigarette. Confused and disturbed, he leaves.

His sister, Siobhan (Kerry Condon), tells Padraic, “Maybe he doesn’t like you anymore.” The bartender at the local pub asks, “Did you have a row?” This question is repeated several times by others and Padraic’s answer is always, “No.” When he sees Colm at the pub, he sidles up to the bar and sits down next to his pal as if all is normal. His once friends says, “Find another place to sit,” then takes his pint and walks out.

What follows starts as Padraic trying to get to the bottom of the unexpected rift between the two men and fix it. When Colm is questioned by others as to “why?” he says simply, “he’s dull.” Padraic cannot accept this and pushes his friend for answers. Colm’s response is a promise that could have come from a Shakespearean play – one that he carries through with horrific results.

It was back in 2008 when director Martin McDonagh teamed with Collin Farrell and Brendon Gleeson to make a lightning strike to bring us the charming hit-man dramedy, “In Bruges.” 14 years later and the team prove that lightning can strike twice, it just hits us in different ways.

Where in “In Bruges” the hit-man characters get pretty even shrift, here, in Banshees,” Padraic is the focal character and Farrell gives a very moving performance as the “dim” one who everyone says is “nice.” Because of this, he does not understand his friend’s behavior, which changed like a switch being thrown. Brendan Gleeson plays his Colm much closer to the vest - where Padraic is an open book, Colm is inwardly drawn.

The other members of the village, from the pub keepers to the cruel cop and his simple, abused son, Dominic (Barry Keoghan) are all fully fleshed out. Kerry Condan, as Padraic’s sister is fully 3D and, when she leaves the picture (and the island), you want to see how she turns out. I invested my time and self to these folk and it is with a sadness and melancholy that I leave.

Farrell is the “star” of “The Banshees of Inisherin” but the ensemble cast, on all levels, is what makes the movie village a living and breathing place. It may not have the draw for me like the tiny Scottish town of Ferness in Bill Forsyth’s 1983 classic, “Local Hero,” but McDonagh draws a presents a real place with real people.

Searchlight Pictures releases "The Banshees of Inisherin" in theaters on 10/28/22.