The Banshees of Inisherin 

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

Dir. Martin McDonagh


"The hell’s goin’ on with you and me feckin’ brother?"

There’s a feeling of finality from the beginning of Martin McDonagh’s fourth feature “The Banshees of Inisherin,” a sense that this island that is the setting is, on one side at the edge of the world, sail a mile offshore and there’s nothing, but on the other, there’s the Irish Civil War, and the cannon fire can be heard throughout the island. This backdrop of the war on one side, and the end of the world on the other allows for the nihilistic and depressive tendencies that McDonagh has been exploring since his debut, “In Bruges” (the first collaboration of Colin Farrell & Brendan Gleeson), and has only grown. The comedy that has been throughout a majority of his films is somewhat toned down here, McDonagh’s writing still allows for comedy, but it’s simple moments that come out of nowhere that the viewer can’t help but laugh at. 

Laughter is seldom heard from any of the four lead performers, their lives are no longer happy, or peaceful. We never experience this either, with no reason as to why what’s happening is, it just happens because it is. There’s a beautiful simplicity in employing that to your narrative, which allows for a more fantastical approach and even a disconnect from reality if necessary. The latter of which is necessary for the solitary life that the islanders lead. Everyone knows everyone, but the loneliness and anxiety that comes from being on an island have come to a head with Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson), he feels he is on borrowed time and he wants to live the rest of his life in his music. The only problem is his best friend, Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell), doesn’t want to stop talking. He is a simple man, he doesn’t understand Colm’s infatuation with the arts and the idea of leaving a mark on history.

The traditional idea would be to frame the film from Gleeson’s perspective, an artist who can’t sever their ties with the world is a motif that is not uncommon in narratives, but Farrell takes center stage, framing it from a simple man’s perspective that his best friend no longer wants to talk to him all of a sudden. And Gleeson doesn’t mince words, he’s harsh but he takes no pleasure in rebuking his lifelong friend, and every word that is spoken cuts like a knife. This abrupt ending to their relationships sends Pádraic spiraling, starting a volatile friendship with Dominic (Barry Keoghan), becoming angry with himself, and the island. This eventually comes home and begins affecting his relationship with his sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon), which gives her some of the funniest moments in the film. Ultimately the dissolving of their relationship is in the background, but without her, Pádraic has no connections to the world. Which inevitably traps Siobhan on the island for longer than she ever planned on staying, but also has moments of tender heartbreak, most notably in a very talked-about scene with Barry Keoghan.

Darkly comedic violence has been a trademark of McDonagh films, the shootouts in “In Bruges,” the shotgun scene in “Seven Psychopaths,” and the brutally humorous assaults in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” He likes his violence with a dose of comedy and it works in the worlds he creates, “Banshees” is the darkest he’s gone yet though, the imagery is dark and very unexpected but unfortunately appropriate when showing how bad the rift between these two men has gotten. There’s no enjoyment to be had in seeing fingers thrown at a door and then being the cause of death for another character (it’s a death scene that has to be experienced, not spoiled). The love these two men had is now gone to the point of death and it’s a moment that hits the viewer like a gut punch, and only feels that way because of the direction and writing from McDonagh, allowing Farell and Gleeson to play off each other to deepen the relationship between Pádraic and Colm only makes the third act such an emotional devastator. 

When the credits roll there was a silence that permeated the frame, there is an amount of time needed to process this film, and it’s different for every viewer. But to create that took previous 110 minutes that broke its viewer down at the same pace that Farrell does the same, it’s borderline maniacal how precisely it’s done yet seems so simple. It’s a credit to the ensemble of Gleeson, Farrell, Keoghan, and Kerry Condon, each of them has multiple standout scenes and has a fantastic text to use, allowing for a cacophony of great performances. This is only amplified by the score by Carter Burwell, employing traditional Irish instrumentation for much of the score, creating a mood that sets up the physical environment perfectly. Then there’s the one-two punch of all McDonagh’s films- the editing and cinematography. Bringing back two-time collaborator Ben Davis for what becomes their best-looking films either has done. And bringing on recent Academy Award recipient Mikkel E.G. Nielsen in place of McDonagh’s go-to editor, Jon Gregory (due to his passing in 2021) maintained the tension throughout the slowness of McDonagh’s film. All of this comes together in the first frame and no one gets out of step with another, and in doing so it quickly becomes a film of great emotion, and a film that will be remembered, studied, and revered for years to come.