The Banshees of Inisherin (2022 | UK, Ireland | 114 mins | Martin McDonagh)
Martin McDonagh returns to Ireland with a moving dark comedy of a suddenly broken friendship on a small island of sad, boring men. He also brings together his In Brugge stars, with Brendan Gleeson as the bachelor who’s had enough boring conversations for a lifetime and Colin Farrell as the simply devoted pal who just doesn’t know how to take no for an answer. He and his gorgeous eyebrows dredge up the rich pathos of simple kindness, which is indeed no easy task.
On the fictional island of Inisherin, all fields of emerald farmland divided like a puzzle by low stone walls, Farrell’s Pádraic makes a daily routine of knocking on Colm’s (Gleeson) door for a pint the after- noon at the pub. That day, however, Colm stubbornly refuses to answer his door, holed up in his dark cottage until his friend gives up and goes off on his own. Everyone in the village is shocked to see Pádraic without Colm, even more so when Colm and his ever-attentive Irish Sheepdog arrive, sit outside and bluntly tell Colm that their friendship is over and he doesn’t want to ever again. talk to him.
The breakup is incomprehensible to Colm, a small farmer who lives with his sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon) and her beloved miniature donkey in the house they’ve shared since their parents died nearly a decade ago. A glance at the calendar the next day brings a spark of relief that Colm’s proclamation may have been a prank, but alas, his friend is very, very serious. Pleas to bridge the sudden chasm only serve to widen the chasm. Colm is so intent on devoting what remains of his life to the pursuits of the spirit, composing music, and gazing toward immortality that he is willing to offer a grim ultimatum to sever the familiar ties of friendship.
Gleeson plays his character with cryptic desperation, there are hints of a history of depression, but the source of a new determination is wisely left largely to the imagination. For his part, Farrell embodies Pádraic with a purity of kindness whose simplicity of gaze is played for fun without necessarily making him the target of the joke. There’s a real pain in his sudden isolation that can’t be filled with the company of a younger, darker townsman (Barry Keoghan, far less of an agent of chaos than when they co-starred in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, but no less a mercurial presence) which provides more comic relief to cover up a dark story. An old woman haunts the island with ominous proclamations and pleas for her own company; the gossips of the town watch every movement; and a violent policeman patrols the streets with a madness for power. The year is 1923 and across the bay signs of an ongoing civil war are raging, though no one in Inisherin seems to remember what they are fighting.
Three billboards outside of Ebbing, Missouri exasperated me by the simplicity of his alliances, but Banshees is much less willing to choose sides. McDonagh’s nimble script situation and wordplay provide constant laughs as a counterweight to what could have been a story of funeral insularity. Colm’s methods may border on madness, but his Gleeson sells his motivation convincingly. He’s great, but this movie is all Farrell, and he finds rich textures in a confused hero on a scenic island whose dimensions perfectly match his character’s petty ambitions. That we stick by his side as the stakes rise and he finds some sort of backbone is testament to the miracle of his performance.