Martin McDonagh’s first feature since his Oscar-winning exploits from 2017’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is a poignant tragicomedy that explores repressed emotions and the frailty of the male ego.
Set during the final chapter of the Irish Civil War in the early 1900s on the fictional Irish island of Inisherin, the film follows a scuffle between two drinking buddies - Colin Ferrel’s Pádraic Súilleabháin and Brendan Gleeson’s Colm Doherty - when one fine day, the latter decides to ignore the former solely because he doesn’t like him anymore.
In a prolonged series of encounters that involve a lot of too and fro between the local pub and the glades of Inisherin, Pádraic finds that though he’s nice and well liked by the islanders, he’s too dull and boring for Colm, who wishes to spend the remainder of his life composing music and doing things for which he will be remembered.
Continuing on from the themes of pre-established McDonagh characters, Ferrel and Gleeson feel like they’re playing the spiritual successors to their characters in 2008’s In Bruges. Depressed, begrudging and self destructive - the men from McDonagh’s work (or more specifically those played by Ferrel and Gleeson) all exude the same repressed temperaments.
A clash between the very same temperaments make for some of the most hilarious circumstances and exchanges that highlight McDonagh’s razor-sharp wit and playwright finesse in his screenplays. Dialogues are repeated for comic appeal, often for a frustrating number of times, yet more often than not, most that is said between characters seems to be lost in translation (if not in the thick Irish brogue in itself).
As the story progresses, Pádraic grows restless as his insecurities pile. The desperation behind Ferell’s perpetually agitated eyes heightens his growing distress upon being outrightly rejected by his best friend.
He finds temporary outlets in his sister, Siobhan, played by the wonderful Kerry Condon, who is tasked with juggling her bumbling brother’s playground rows alongside island gossip as a single woman and the pressures that a new work opportunity presents her with. Siobhan is gentle and reaffirming towards her brother’s plight while consistently proving why she’s completely out of place on an island filled with dimwitted men bickering amongst themselves.
Padraic also spends time ranting to the local simpleton Dominic - the most standout performances in the film, brought to life by the brilliant Barry Keoghan. Dominic may be misguided and could do with a good whack at times, however underneath the layers of blockheadedness lies a domestically abused boy in desperate need of just a smidge of affection.
In one of the most heartbreaking sequences in the film, Dominic takes a leap of faith, trying his luck by confessing his fondness towards Siobhan - naturally, only to get shot down. Keoghan’s signature nervous nail-biting and shifty eyes are painful to watch as he walks off dejectedly along the lake.
In more ways than one, the isle of Inisherin is aloof from the ongoing conflict on the Irish mainland. But McDonagh steeps this childish rivalry between two friends of old as a subtle political allegory reflecting the warring sides across the shore. The petty scuffle often feels trivial, but for reasons beyond any sanity, assume drastic, violent measures.
The act of showing the finger in staunch defiance is one that Colm seems to have taken a little too literally in the film, over multiple instances. Colm rather aptly enunciates the viewers thoughts towards the very same needlessly macabre extremities later on in the film,
Ben Davis’s camera work is a masterclass in capturing the little Irish isle in all its gaelic beauty while frequent McDonagh collaborator Carter Burwell’s pensive original score encapsulates the desolation through simple flute and harp melodies.
Just as the friendship seems to be rekindled towards the end of the film, tragedy strikes when Pádraic’s friendly donkey companion Jenny meets an unfortunate end. And so continues the cycle of hatred, destined to live on in perpetuity.
It seems Colm’s foreshadowing comes full circle when Pádraic brings new meaning to his previous taunt “nobody remembers you for being nice”. As acts of violence, whether intended or otherwise, beget further violence, the film leaves us with a deeper introspection on this balance of powers.
The Banshees of Inisherin is a delightful social comedy that runs a fine line between entirely absurd and sweepingly cinematic, featuring a powerful ensemble of performances all round.
We’re going with 4 out of 5 stars for this.
The Banshees of Inisherin is available to stream on Disney+ Hotstar.