The Banshees of Inisherin (Review) – The In Bruges Break-Up Album

DIRECTOR: Martin McDonagh

CAST: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan, Pat Shortt, Jon Kenny, Gary Lydon, Sheila Flitton, David Pearse

RUNNING TIME: 109 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: A friendship between two men (Farrell and Gleeson) comes to a sudden halt…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

It may not seem as such when you take a look at his pitch-black filmography, but writer-director Martin McDonagh is a rather hopeful filmmaker. He finds deep humanity and pathos in the bleakest of characters, from suicidal hitmen to grieving mothers of raped murder victims, and allows them some sort of catharsis through an even mixture of very dark humour and provocative dialogue, which doesn’t absolve them of their bad behaviour, but at the very least allows his audience to understand where they’re coming from.

In the case of his fourth feature The Banshees of Inisherin, however, McDonagh presents himself the task of finding hope and joy in a scenario where there is neither, more so than any of his previous films combined – and yet, somewhere amidst the utter bleakness and tragicomedy of his quietly devastating feature, he still manages to seek out the faintest glimmer of light in an otherwise pitch-black atmosphere. For that reason alone, on top of a few other ones, The Banshees of Inisherin might be one of his most profound works to date.

Set in 1920s Ireland, we are quickly introduced to a simple yet amiable fellow named Pádraic (Colin Farrell), who lives in a small community on an island just off the mainland, where a civil war plays out in the background. He is taken aback when, out of the blue, his close friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson) tells him that he no longer wishes to have anything to do with him in any capacity, for reasons that are never entirely clear; the most that both Pádraic and the audience can muster is that Colm would rather spend his time becoming more cultured than listening to his former friend’s dull spiel about his farm animals, including his beloved donkey Jenny. Refusing to let his friendship turn to dust, Pádraic keeps trying to get through to Colm, even bringing in his sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon) to try and talk some sense into the grumpy man – that is, until Colm finally decides to give Pádraic a gruesome ultimatum: he will chop off one of his own fingers for each time that Pádraic approaches him like he often did. What transpires next, including how it also involves local young ne’er-do-well Dominic (Barry Keoghan) and his abusive policeman of a father (Gary Lydon), is perhaps best left to be experienced for oneself.

As with his previous films, McDonagh brings a Pinter-esque simplicity to his storytelling, sharp in its precision and rarely ever meandering from the point that he is trying to get across. Being a fellow playwright himself, McDonagh also has a knack for crafting dialogue that gives the viewer everything they need to know about the characters without becoming too expository, and often leaves them laughing hard while also feeling extremely uncomfortable as things inevitably turn more volatile. The director doesn’t shy away from how grim this story soon becomes, with moments of violence that can be pretty shocking to witness, but it never feels excessive or just there to provide shock value, and instead serves a dark and borderline mean-spirited purpose in the grander scheme of this story. Like some of McDonagh’s past features, especially Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri which generated some backlash in the lead-up to its otherwise successful awards campaign for its sympathetic portrayal of a racist cop, The Banshees of Inisherin will probably inspire a similar amount of audience division for its overly cynical and dour tone, which would honestly neglect the fact that, like it or not, said tone is kind of the point, especially with the historical context of the Irish Civil War that was itself the result of petty cynicism amongst squabbling factions not dissimilar to Pádraic and Colm themselves.

It is an extremely bitter pill to swallow, with a third act that goes into some seriously tragic areas surrounding particular characters, but the beauty of The Banshees of Inisherin is that despite the overwhelming bleakness, not to mention some of the rather horrific acts that other people commit, it does ultimately see the light at the end of the tunnel. While it doesn’t end on the happiest of notes – far from it, in fact – there is a calming sense of relief as you sense a real human element in the middle of this dark rivalry, whether it’s in McDonagh’s often very funny dialogue, or within the extremely soulful performances by Colin Farrell (in what has to be a career highpoint for the actor) and Brendan Gleeson (equally excellent as the much more dour instigator of the conflict), with some great support from the likes of Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan. Even as they all do and say some very questionable things throughout the movie, these characters rarely feel one-dimensional because the script and acting do very well with tapping into their underlying humanity that makes them a lot more tragic and sorrowful than they at first appear to be. You feel comfortable knowing more about these extremely flawed people and where their stories eventually lead, which do not always go down the paths you secretly hope for, but you are nonetheless captivated by the direction in which they are headed.

While it is a fascinating film to watch and think about afterwards, complete with wonderful performances accompanied by some great dialogue and direction, The Banshees of Inisherin will most likely not resonate well with some viewers. As stated earlier, the film carries a very dark and uncomfortable tone all throughout, which certainly leads to something vaguely hopefully, but anyone hoping for that to be more prominent might be a little put off by its pessimistic overtones that could cause some to mistake its intentional dourness for outright cynicism, which given the current state of affairs all over the world might not be what most audiences are looking for right now. Then again, by this point you should know that someone like Martin McDonagh does not make films that appeal to everyone, and The Banshees of Inisherin is another fine example of his stellar work that knows which buttons to press and with what force, while still making itself appealing enough to at the very least inspire heavy amounts of discussion.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Banshees of Inisherin is a devilishly dark and surprisingly hopeful new entry from writer-director Martin McDonagh, who provides some sharp and often very funny dialogue for his excellent actors, including a career-best Colin Farrell, but its overly dour and bleak tone has the potential to divide audiences looking for something lighter to watch.

The Banshees of Inisherin is now showing in cinemas nationwide – click here to find a screening near you!

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