Come for the silliness, stay for the deep existential dread.
Despite critical and commercial success, Martin McDonagh remains a somewhat underrated figure within the film industry. I saw this because I don’t see the same buzz around one of his new films as I do for one by the likes of Edgar Wright or even Guy Ritchie. However, with one of the best films of the 2000s with In Bruges (2008) and big success when he went to the US with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), I personally was giddy at the sight of a new release in 2022 . . . especially one that reunites the acting duo from In Bruges (2008).
The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) takes place in the 1920s on a quiet island just off of Ireland where two close friends, Colm and Padraic (Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell), reside. The film begins with the peculiar, but rather depressing notion that Colm, the older and more intelligent of the two, decides he no longer wants to be friends or socialise in any way with Padraic. I don’t want to spoil it because it is definitely a good one to see blind, but there’s a tragic existentialism in Colm and the film is as sad as it is hilarious.
One thing that you can always trust about McDonagh is his ability to get the best out of his actors as Farrell won a Golden Globe for In Bruges and Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell won Academy Awards and multiple others for Three Billboards (2017). The Banshees of Inisherin is no exception with Farrell and Gleeson being fantastic as always. Barry Keoghan is exceptional but, perhaps, my favourite performance of the lot comes from Kerry Condon, who I had only seen in small roles up until this point. However, she is completely captivating as Padraic’s wiser sister caught between the two ideologies of the main characters, trying to comfort her brother whilst also quietly understanding Colm’s reasoning.
There is a real irony within the film as Padraic looks down on Keoghan’s character, Dominic, in the same way that Colm treats him, thinking he is dull and dismissing the majority of what he has to say. The film is not overt with its message, but there certainly are some interesting takeaways. It is a lot of fun, too, there’s one joke involving a bread van which wouldn’t at all look out of place in a classic Simpsons episode and I was laughing even for a good couple of minutes after the film had moved on.
In Bruges is the easiest of McDonagh’s film to draw comparisons with due to the returning duo and the stark Irishness. The Banshees of Inisherin, undoubtedly, has a less in your face approach than In Bruges and in many ways is the other side of the spectrum. Where In Bruges is very explicit about everything it says, Banshees hints more at its message. The endings are very different, too, with this film leaving an air of ambiguity. Some may find it a little unfulfilling, but I quite like the melancholic silliness of the film which is particularly present in the ending. The film has an interesting discussion about life, particularly with an individual’s time depleting, but it is also really funny.
Overall, I think it’s one of the best films of the year.
The Banshees of Inisherin was released across the UK on October 21, 2022.