Despite being a contributor to the overall critical consensus, I too can fall victim to overhype. I know it’s hard to believe, but not all critics agree or move as one. We are some immovable force like some illuminati conglomerate lurking in the shadows to trash “Black Adam” and praise indie films no one has ever heard of. That’s simply not the case, and there have been plenty of acclaimed films that simply don’t resonate with me and won’t praise, even when that puts me in the minority opinion. Thankfully, “The Banshees of Inisherin” lives up to the hype in just about every single way, delivering a near masterpiece tragicomedy powered by impeccable filmmaking and devastating performances.
Martin McDonagh is one of my favorite writer/directors, though I wouldn’t consider all of his filmography equal. Even by matter of preference, it’s pretty easy to rank his limited filmography. But “Banshees” feels like a graduation of his work, blending all of the strengths of his previous work to deliver one of the best fecking films of the year.
Known for films like “In Bruges” (probably still my favorite of his), “Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri,” and “Seven Psychopaths,” “The Banshees of Inisherin” reunites his film debut crew, once again pairing favorites Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson and adding Kerry Condon and Barry Kenoghan to the supporting cast. The film follows two friends on the fictional Irish island Inisherin in 1923, at the height of The Irish Civil War. Relatively untouched by the chaos on the mainland, Colm Doherty (Gleeson) abruptly decides that his friendship with Pádraic Súilleabháin (Farrell) is over, and he no longer wishes to speak with him. Dumbfounded by this sudden change in their friendship, Pádraic insists on restoring their connection, while Colm proves to be steadfast in his decision, willing to prove his resolve of never speaking to Pádraic again. He boldly claims he will cut off one of his fingers for every attempt made at trying to talk to him, and this ultimatum and the persistence of both men will have dire consequences not just for each other, but for everyone else in their small village lives.
At its core, “Banshees” is a break up film. We never actually see how close they were before their breakup, or ever understand the true nature of their friendship. It is primarily interpreted by Pádraic’s longing for whatever they had before and Colm’s insistence that it’s time for both men to grow apart and go their separate ways. On a larger scale though, “Banshees” is about two men with differing philosophies of our meaning in the world. “Banshees” beautifully explores the existential crises of existence and purpose, and what it means to be remembered and what should we be remembered for. But it is also about loneliness and isolation, and how each man chooses what’s important to them in a land of very limited options. Colm is wrestling with his own mortality how to spend the remaining years of his life. Pádraic simply wants to live in the moment, content with the world he occupies, and believes that just being nice and having good, normal fecking chats at the pub is enough to be content.
It is perhaps the most mature of all of Mcdonagh’s film so far. You feel himself injected into the screenplay, as he clearly embodies both Pádraic and Colm, and is trying to understand himself and where he falls in terms of legacy, memory and contributions. “Banshees” feels incredibly personal yet instantly universal, delivering big, existential questions through the quiet backdrop of a remote island. “Banshees” very much uses the gorgeous scenery of the Irish country side to demonstrate the claustrophobia of Inisherin existence, and the setting is a character that serves as the catalyst for all things that occur. Here, small differences are magnified to infinity, and two friends breaking up effects everyone because no one can escape it. “Banshees” asks us to question our own place it the world while simultaneously begging the question, what do owe to others? Mcdonagh is incredibly purposeful in is script, never letting these big ideas overshadow the small scale fable-like story unfolding in the present.
Acclaimed cinematographer Ben Davis (who’s filmography and stunning work is too long to list here) once again delivers magic in every frame. Davis expertly juxtaposes stunning greens, rolling hills and dazzling wetlands against the sadness, loneliness, and divide of its characters. The skills of Mcdonagh’s storytelling and deeply moving characters become a match made in cinematic heaven with Davis’ stunning visuals, making “Banshees” a near flawless wonder of a film. Even if the story itself seems too far fetched and heartbreaking to resonant, the craft of “Banshees” is still undeniable. It’s filmmaking from both Mcdonagh and Davis creates an enthralling, compelling, and visceral experience, one that solidifies them both as masters of their craft.
Of course, none of this works without the performers, and my god, do Gleeson and Farrell deliver. Colin Farrell has had a sort of resurgence recently, despite never really going anywhere. Nevertheless, he continues to push the limits of his own abilities, and delivers a heartbreaking yet charming performance as Pádraic in “Banshees.” It’s hard to tout it as a career best, because he’s been on a rampage of bests for the last few years now. But Farrell is dialed in here, so much so that even his eyebrows should be nominated for a supporting role. Farrell absolutely puts himself on the shortlist of Best Actor Nominees, and deservedly so. He’s simply brilliant here. Thats not to discredit Gleeson’s work as Colm, either. Gleeson is the perfect antithesis to the affable Pádraic, and taps into the depths of a man wrestling with his own place in the world and his own mortality. Sure, Farrell is supposed to be the more likable of the two, but even in the most extreme measures that are taken, Gleeson brings out a humanity and relatability to an otherwise obstinate and rather unlikeable character.
“Banshees” is furthered by the often unsung supporting performances from Condon and Keorghan, who are equally impressive here. They are never the centerpiece of the film but maximize their screen time to great effect. Condon is able to convey enormous amounts of emotion with very little dialogue, with Keorghan once again reinvents himself to deliver his quirk in a unique way. These 4 stars all collectively contribute to making a rather depressing story palatable, expertly balancing the macabre with the undercurrent of humor. “Banshees” is without a doubt a feel-bad movie, with very little hope and is, by design, intentionally sad across the board. But Mcdonagh’s script paired with masterful delivery allows for the subtle dark humor to shine through, and despite how awful things get allow for some catharsis through laughter from everyone.
It is truly amazing how big and larger than life the themes are against how simple the story of “The Banshees of Inisherin” actually is. Mcdonagh truly wants to convey big ideas that far surpass the confines of Inisherin, but never lets himself get so pretentious you feel as though he’s desperately trying to tell you something. He is, and “Banshees” absolutely has something meaningful to say, but the craft of filmmaking, expert pacing, and unparalleled performances all contribute to making “The Banshees of Inisherin” one of the most well made tragicomedies to date, as well as one of the best films of the year. If I could add any notes to it, it would be that it should probably come with subtitles. Everyone dials up their Irish accents to 11, and even a trained ear may find it somewhat hard to keep up with. “Banshees” doesn’t come with a thesaurus, so do your best to follow the bouncing ball of inflection and dialect.Thanks to “Banshees,” I think I’m going to add fecking to my vocabulary.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go wrestle with my own mortality and whether or not writing film reviews is how I want to be remembered. BRB, having my own “The Banshees of Inisherin” existential crisis.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
“The Banshees of Inisherin” is now playing in select theaters. You can check out the trailer below.