There aren’t many movies that suit festival viewing better than ones like The Banshees of Inisherin. Martin McDonagh’s latest triumphant dark comedy is a brilliant film in its own right, but one elevated even further in a big, receptive crowd, every big wave of laughs or gasps seemingly feeding back into the screen, pushing the writing and performances to ever greater heights. It’s an absolute blast, extremely funny and exciting, yet with the same sort of melancholic soul that made McDonagh’s debut In Bruges so enduring. The Banshees of Inisherin is his best since then, maybe even matching up to its rightfully esteemed ancestor.
Helping the In Bruges comparisons is, naturally, the reunion of Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, once again playing a pair of friends brought to the brink. These friends are the parochial but kindly Padraic (Farrell) and the more worldly music-lover Colm (Gleeson), living on the Irish island of Inisherin in 1923 while the dying days of the Irish Civil War rage within earshot on the mainland, though the violence hasn’t crossed the sea. Every day at 2pm, they go to the pub together until, seemingly out of nowhere, Colm decides he’s had enough, that Padraic is too boring to keep being friends with and threatens to start cutting off his own fingers if Padraic ever talks to him again.
It’s a drastic move, and Farrell (alongside some world-class eyebrows) plays the baffled hurt of Padraic exceptionally well, the opening salvo in a simply stunning performance that deservedly won Best Actor at this year’s Venice Film Festival. Padraic might be the second-dimmest man on the island, but he feels things incredibly deeply (his love for all his animals, for example, is consistently endearing), and Farrell excels at finding ways to internalise this sudden grief and rage that Padraic finds difficult to satisfyingly verbalise, at least when he’s sober.
By nature, Gleeson’s performance is a bit more opaque – Colm has to be almost as mysterious to us as he is to Padraic for the story to work – but he’s still great. Through just his face we learn how irrational Colm’s sudden turn is, more of a compulsion than a decision, one that seems to actively hurt him, especially when he has to devastate Padraic. Rounding out the core cast, Kerry Condon is also very moving as Padraic’s smart and ambitious sister Siobhan, while Barry Keoghan brings both comic relief and stinging pathos as Dominic, maybe the island’s most tragic ne’er-do-well.
Just as he did with In Bruges, McDonagh takes this heavy premise and richly sad cast of characters and turns it into something incredibly funny, without ever sacrificing the emotional weight. The Banshees of Inisherin is probably 2022’s funniest film, packed with visual and verbal gags delivered by a cast at the top of their game. The excellence in performance even extends to the animals of the island, some of the biggest laughs coming from the placid yet oddly affecting reactions of the dogs, cows, goats, and horses of Inisherin, with special mention reserved for Jenny the miniature donkey, who is an instant and adorable superstar.
Some unfussily lovely camerawork and a reliably evocative and energetic score from Carter Burwell complete the world of the film – as does the great set design, especially within the pub – but The Banshees of Inisherin truly is a showcase for writing and acting, and in both it has some of the very best of the year. If there is one minor gripe, it’s that it peters out just a little come the ending, but everything that comes before is so perfectly pitched between comedy and tragedy that this little stumble barely matters. Whether you’re laughing, gasping, or crying, The Banshees of Inisherin is impossible to not be affected by.
My review. https://opinionoftheday650548878.wordpress.com/2022/10/23/film-review-the-banshees-of-inisherin-please-dont-take-another-5-years-to-make-another-film-martin-mcdonagh/