Written and Directed by Martin McDonagh | 109 min | ▲▲▲▲△ | Disney +
A version of this review appeared on FITI in September during the Toronto International Film Festival.
This film was shot in Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland. The story is set on one side of the island, the smallest portion of a small community. It takes place in 1923 toward the end of the Irish Civil War, which informs the drama — the terrible conflict is literally within view but also set apart, beyond understanding.
Otherwise, the island feels utterly remote — a place of expansive, grey skies and dark, ancient homes with thick stone walls.
Colin Farrell is Pádraic, a farmer who lives with his sister, Siobhan (Kerry Condon), a number of cows and a tiny donkey. His lifelong pal down the hill is fiddle player Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson), but Colm’s decided he doesn’t want to be Pádraic’s friend anymore.
This has a seismic impact on the community — including the local wild boy (Barry Keoghan), his father the cop (Gary Lydon), and the witchy old lady (Sheila Flitton). Poor Siobhan tries to play conciliator, but her dreams are set somewhere beyond this rocky shore.
What we’re able to piece together about Colm’s decision-making and need to step away from Pádraic, it’s rooted in a fear of death. He’s decided his legacy is more important than this friendship, and there’s no room for compromise. That’s a rich bedrock of story, and what McDonagh does so well here is let location seep into the thematic underlay of the movie. You can’t separate the character from where they are, this unforgiving place.
I started to wonder whether Pádraic or Colm has it worse off in terms of their shambling mental health. Through them the picture ends up exploring the importance of friendship, our relationship with animals, and the constant danger and tragedy of loneliness. It’s a terrific mix of humour and pathos.
I liked The Banshees of Inisherin more than McDonagh’s last picture, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, though my favourite of his remains his hit-man comedy — a film also interested in issues of mortality — the wonderfully unpredictable In Bruges. That was the first time Farrell and Gleeson worked with McDonagh on the big screen. Banshees feels like the film of a distinctly older filmmaker, someone who’s matured and mellowed a little, though still full of dry wit.
One of the picture’s chief pleasures is the way it allows both Farrell and Gleeson so much room to fill the screen. These men have become masters of their craft, if they weren’t already in Belgium back in 2008.