Banshees of Inisherin movie review: In brood: The Banshees of Inisherin

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The In Brugge The dream team of Martin McDonagh, Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell return in a dark tale about the end of a friendship on a remote island off the west coast of Ireland

Returning to familiar territory of a wild, rocky outpost on Ireland’s west coast, Martin McDonagh’s latest film tells a story so simple and yet so terrible you could spend days wondering what you just saw after the final credits.

McDonagh’s work has always been imbued with an irony and a certain very Irish maniacal joy that mixes the surreal with sudden flashes of violence and murky myth. In Banshees, he brings them all together for a sadly funny and painful story about the end of a friendship between two old pals.

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Watch our interview with Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell

The playwright of The cripple of Inishmaan and The Lieutenant of Inishmore and producer of the highly acclaimed sleeper tube In Brugge, sets his trap in the first six minutes of his film. And what a trap it is.

There’s Brendan Gleeson as Colm, slumped in a chair at his cottage on the edge of the world (well, the fictional island of Inisherin in the west of Ireland in 1923). Looks like he just spent a very dark night of soul brooding. . . well, life and all that. Suddenly, at the window, Colin Farrell appears as the Pádraic puppy. He’s here to meet Colm, his best friend in the world, so they can both stroll to the local pub and perform their noble daily ritual of gossiping over bottles of Guinness.

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However, Colm is not thirsty or he made a fateful decision. He says bluntly to a puzzled Pádraic, “I don’t love you anymore.” “You like me,” Pádraic replies, half smiling, then his voice trails off. . . Colm wants to be left alone to play the violin and think about Mozart. As he says, “I have changed. I have no more room for boredom in my life.”

This sets in motion a story of mutual discord that sees both men go to grotesque lengths to prove their point. Pádraic insists the friendship must continue but Colm’s determination to end it all leads him to take a terrible blood oath. Like Lee Marvin and Toshirō Mifune in Hell in the Pacific upside down, things go very badly, very quickly.

Avid musician Colm’s cottage is a bohemian haunt, African masks hang from the ceiling and a gleaming gramophone takes pride of place. Pádraic, cosmically dull but kind, tends to his small herd of cattle and shares a more conventional home with his single, bookworm sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon), where he adores his animals (and it’s the best movie featuring a donkey from Shrek). How, you might be wondering, were these guys even friends in the first place?

In the Brood: Gleeson as Colm and Farrell as Pádraic

All the while, shells ring out and machine guns slam across the neighboring continent as Civil War rumbles ominously like a rumor, playing a grating allegory of Padraic and Colm’s own battle. As spineless and abusive local guard Peadar Kearney (Gary Lydon) blithely remarks as he looks forward to a paid trip to oversee an execution, “The Free State guys are executing a few IRA guys…or is it the other way around?”

Farrell’s performance as Pádraic, a harmless, downcast gentleman is compelling. You can see his stunned face turn to dismay and finally fury in extended close-ups. Whether The Lieutenant of Inishmore Had Mad Padraic, Banshees gives us Sad Pádraic.

Of course, the voice of reason in all of this is the sensible and highly intelligent Siobhán. Brilliantly played by Tipperary actor Condon (who was so brilliant in breaking Bad and You better call Saul), the stultifying island and its bewildered men drive her to despair. “Of course, he was always boring! she thunders in exasperation at Colm when he tells her why he is no longer friends with his brother.

Kerry Condon as Siobhán in The Banshees of Inisherin

McDonagh was accused of having cloverleaf tinted glasses but you could see Banshees as revenge for Wild mountain thyme and his film is populated by a supporting cast of warped Irish archetypes. The black-robed old woman Mrs. McCormick (Sheila Flitton) appears intermittently as a stark outcrop, as one of the macbeth‘s witches or, well, a banshee. When she scares poor Pádraic one too many times, he yells at her, “You’re fucking crazy.”

The bitter, critical priest (David Pearse) kicks Colm out of the confessional with very unChristian language. There is also the weapon/gossip of a shopkeeper, and the chauvinist and cruel Garda who one day beats Pádraic on the quay, leaving him in tears. Alongside the flawless turns of Gleeson, Farrell and Condon, Barry Keoghan as troubled young islander Dominic subtly plays with any idea that he’s the village idiot and offers glimmers of philosophical insight. We also see another duo reunited in the form of D’Unbelievables Pat Shortt and Jon Kenny, the former playing carefree bartender Jonjo and the latter a half-awake barfly.

Farrell and Barry Keoghan

Filmed over two months on Inis Mór and Oileán Acla, dramatic vistas eclipse players and melting sunsets and seasonal shifts mark the passage of time in this war of attrition. Carter Burwell’s dark, atmospheric soundtrack swirls like mist, and Ben Davis’ gorgeous cinematography picks out vibrant colors like a John Hinde postcard. McDonagh also takes off his tweed cap to Ryan’s Daughter with expansive beach scenes and the urgent whispers of city dwellers. There’s also more than a little to John Ford’s Westerns. Pádraic and Colm are like gunslingers going around in circles and there’s a lot of gunfire through doors and windows.

Entrenchment leads to the inevitable freefall of savagery. Is it a story of morality? A parable about the inability of men to communicate? A twisted comedy? However you slice it, Banshees is funny, powerful, grotesque and indescribably sad. If you like black stuff, be warned – this is a heartbreak brewery.

Alan Corr @CorrAlan2

The Banshees of Inisherin is in theaters this Friday, October 21

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