Writer/director Martin McDonagh presents an In Bruges reunion with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson with his new film The Banshees of Inisherin — a tense and darkly hilarious civil war about friendship and the consequences of pride.
The film takes viewers to the small, fictional Irish island of Inisherin during the Irish Civil War. The island stands a good chance of being one of the most visually stunning and compelling settings of the year. The luscious, vast green landscapes mixed with Ben Davis’ cinematography is simply to die for and makes The Banshees on Inisherin worth seeing on the big screen. At times when you see these big sweeping shots of the landscape, it almost feels like you’re in a big-budget fantasy setting because of how beautiful it is, but McDonagh keeps things grounded through the film’s central conflict and we’re not talking about the Civil War happening across the water.
Rather, the film focuses on a more personal civil war that erupts between folk musician Colm (Gleeson) and his former drinking buddy Padraic (Farrell) after Colm suddenly decides to end his friendship with Padraic. Farrell and Gleeson literally have you hooked from their first encounter on-screen with Padraic’s warmness being met by Colm’s cold shoulder. The pain that Padraic feels from having his friendship with Colm end so suddenly is made immensely real by Farrell’s performance and he really embodies those relatable feelings of struggling to accept the end. From how he constantly tries to understand what’s changed and mend his friendship with Colm, even when it’s clearly over, to his perspective of himself being broken when he’s labeled as dull by Colm and silently by others, Padraic is so easy to gravitate towards because Farrell evokes such strong emotion and genuine care in his performance.
Gleeson isn’t just cold as ice though, as he makes Colm equally as compelling through his meaningful desires for personal change. Don’t get it wrong, the facial expressions that Gleeson can have rock you to your core in how decisively callous he can be and the sense of detachment he shows towards Padraic. Yet, as you come to listen to Colm’s reasoning, there’s an understanding that ties to a universal concern of legacy and growing old that comes to make him a deeper and more relatable character. Together, Farrell and Gleeson are immaculate opposing forces on-screen delivering award-worthy performances that are elevated by McDonagh’s excellent writing.
It can be easy to pin a right or wrong label on Padraic and Colm at first simply because of fresh their feelings are in this tough predicament, but McDonagh adds a lot of great complexity to the situation that makes the film vastly engaging. It’s great how these two breaking up isn’t just cut and dry and while we never get to see them as friends before they break up, there are moments where you can tell that they once were. The way their friendship ending causes ripples in the island’s social life is intriguing and plays a strong role in their own combative nature. McDonagh’s writing also features some great dialogue that allows for some hilarious moments as well as some great supporting characters in Padraic’s sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon) and local boy Dominic (Barry Keoghan).
Honestly, Siobhan and Dominic have some good story threads as well that intertwine and match the ongoing dispute between Padraic and Colm. Even better is that McDonagh always finds great ways to up the ante in dark and tensely gripping fashion, especially when it comes to a bloody threat that Colm makes towards Padraic if he doesn’t leave him be. The entire second half of The Banshees of Inisherin will leave you completely captivated by how far Colm is willing to go to make his point and it excellently brings out this display of pride having its consequences. Just as you feel calmed by some seemingly good conversation, McDonagh raises the stakes and impact to places that are unexpectedly disturbing and further explore the reasoning behind Colm ending things and Padraic being unable to accept it.
Pretty much everything in the last act leaves a big lump in your throat as Farrell’s performance becomes much more richly complex because of Padraic’s suddenly vicious turn due to a tragedy caused by Colm’s actions. There are moments so shocking that the phrase “things just got real” will constantly pop into your mind and it’s pretty amazing how both Farrell and Gleeson thrive in this darker tone that stems from Colm’s commitment and Padraic’s inability to let it go causing new issues. By the end, you’re simply left stunned by the results and leave with cathartic thoughts about everything that’s unfolded.
The Banshees of Inisherin is another incredible collaboration between McDonagh, Farrell, and Gleeson that tells an easily relatable and captivating tale of conflict elevated by two fantastic lead performances and some stunning writing from McDonagh that eventually turns into this dark and engrossing civil war.