The Banshees of Inisherin review — Irish idyll a gem

Written and Directed by Martin McDonagh | 109 min | ▲▲▲▲△ | In Cinemas 

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.

Otherwise, the island feels utterly remote, a place of expansive, grey skies and dark, ancient homes of wood and stone.

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.

He thinks Pádraic is dull and he’s a distraction from Colm’s true work, his music. This has a seismic impact on the community — including the local wild boy (Barry Keoghan), his father the cop (Gary Lydon), the bartender at the pub (Pat Shortt), and the witchy old lady (Sheila Flitton). 

You start to wonder whether Pádraic or Colm has it worse off in terms of their shambling mental health as the picture explores the importance of friendship, our relationship to animals, and the constant danger and tragedy of loneliness, and more.

What we’re able to piece together about Colm’s decision-making, it’s rooted in a fear of death, consideration of legacy, and importance of art. That’s a rich bedrock of story, and what McDonagh does so well here — and what he’s done in his previous films — is let location seep into the thematic underlay of this story. You can’t separate the character from where they are. 

I liked The Banshees of Inisherin about as much as McDonagh’s last picture, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, though I don’t think either of those are quite up to the hilarious, dark and unpredictable In Bruges, the first time Farrell and Gleeson worked with McDonagh on the big screen. This feels like the film of a distinctly older filmmaker, someone who’s mellowed a little, though still full of McDonagh’s trademark 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 when they met in Belgium back in 2008.

It occurs to me the whole movie could be analogous to the pandemic and the frustrations of a lockdown, though I expect we’ll be looking at every work of art through that lens for some time to come. 

About the author

flawintheiris

Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.

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