Writer/director Martin McDonagh has a rare gift, he can wrestle beauty from bad behaviour, poor decisions and abject squirming shame. For The Banshees of Inisherin, he drew deep upon that gift to craft an unforgettable and utterly bonkers journey through the implosion of a friendship between two boring men. You will not come away unscathed.
Every day Inisherin islanders Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson) meet at their local pub to share a pint and pass the time. The two men have been good friends for years and the routine is something that Pádraic – a self-proclaimed nice man – has come to rely on. The life of a smallholder is a solitary one and, besides his loving sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon), Colm is Pádraic’s only confidant.
Unfortunately, Pádraic doesn’t really have anything interesting to confide. His small life has rendered his small talk microscopic and Colm, realising he cannot squander another minute of his life listening to it, terminates their friendship and bans Pádraic from ever speaking to him again. Bewildered by the ban, the inarticulate man blunders through the next few days trying to make sense of the change, prompting Colm to take drastic action to ensure his point is made.
News of the fallout astonishes Inisherin’s residents. Unusually hungry for gentle gossip, they are flabbergasted by such a dramatic shift in the status quo. But they take Colm’s threats of consequences seriously and urge Pádraic to let him be. Only Siobhán and Dominic (Barry Keoghan) – the unofficial village idiot, a sweet young boy with problems of his own – have empathy for Pádraic’s plight. And Dominic’s support comes with the ulterior motive of keeping him away from his unhappy home.
The Banshees of Inisherin is a deceptively simple film that uses the ripple effect of Colm and Pádraic’s estrangement to unearth underlying issues and resentments across the quiet community. The domestic dispute plays out with pitch-black brilliance right across from the civil conflict on the mainland and the parallels between its explosions and the incendiary rhetoric and passive aggression on Inisherin are palpable.
The camera is as drawn to Siobhán as poor misguided Dominic and her exasperation and sheer common sense are the heart of this extraordinary tragicomedy. Ben Davis’s cinematography captures the stunning seascapes but also cleverly draws us into the claustrophobia of isolated homes and the rigid routines played out inside. Mikkel E. G. Nielsen’s editing plays a huge part too; the Sound of Metal award winner painstakingly layers irritation, repetition, confusion and hope in slices so tissue-thin that you barely notice these people have been buried alive.
Every character, from the envelope-steaming postmistress/shopkeeper to the droll barman is so well drawn that you’d happily follow them around the island for ninety minutes too. But Farrell and Gleeson are our focus here and the onscreen reunion of the In Bruges stars does not disappoint. Their pairing ensures that The Banshees of Inisherin’s gradual descent into ultra-violence is one hell of a ride. Farrell and his baffled brows make Pádraic’s dullness mesmeric and Gleeson’s sad clown acceptance of Colm’s fingerless fate is perfectly pitched.
We have all met someone whose commitment to their own identity as a good and nice person defines them. In men, the shattering of that self-deception can have particularly vicious ends and an ugly fallout. Martin McDonagh has pinpointed the moment when a nice guy’s ‘niceness’ is weaponised into pestilence and exploited it to tell a deliciously entertaining and terrible tale.
The Banshees of Inisherin opens across the UK on October 21st