Director: Martin McDonagh
Writer: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan
2017 was the last time we heard (or rather saw) anything from Martin McDonagh, with his critically acclaimed Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri being drenched in many award nominations and wins. Before that we had 2012’s crime/comedy caper Seven Psychopaths and the one that kicked it all off in 2008, the delightfully dark and equally hilarious In Bruges. Finally, McDonagh returns with another darkly humourous tale to whet our dreary appetites once more. Has McDonagh managed to retain his signature style of mixing comedy with drama and finely written characters, or has our patience been all for naught?
Set in 1923 close to the end of the Irish civil war, Pádraic Súilleabháin (Farrell) appears to lead a happy yet unremarkable existence living with his sister Siobhán (Condon) on the small (fictional) island of Inisherin off the coast of Ireland. He has always had what he considered to be a good friendship with fellow local Colm Doherty (Gleeson), until one day, seemingly out of the blue, Colm decides he no longer wants to be friends with Pádraic. Colm goes to great lengths to ensure Pádraic ceases speaking to him, but Pádraic refuses to accept Colm’s decision. Ultimately the pair end up at odds that have major repercussions, yet neither seems to know just where to draw the line.
If you have enjoyed McDonagh’s previous films, you’ll more than likely enjoy this one too. If you are not familiar with his work, then this would be a pretty good entry way into his films. It boasts all McDonagh’s excellent writing abilities, particularly his ability to craft interesting and three-dimensional characters with lives that ought to be dull and bland (much like the character Pádraic is written to be, it seems) but are far from it with a sprinkling of McDonagh’s favoured tragicomedy flavouring. What’s also notable is what McDonagh hadn’t written, at least not in the dialogue. There’s a lot to be read between the lines, and often those “between” sections can be deciphered at times through the set design and even the cinematography. Much of the film feels small, from the characters to the tiny island setting to the very houses and buildings the characters frequent, and yet the problems that develop for or between the characters feel larger and heavier, as though they cannot be held by such a small island. One such problem is a character who seems to loom as an agent of death, casting a shadow over the inhabitants of the island, and yet she isn’t considered a problem by the locals, which says a lot about a theme of two-sidedness that runs through the narrative. The humour however excellently balances out the drama and the darkness, with scenes involving the local priest feeling somewhat inspired by the likes of classic British/Irish comedy Father Ted.
Banshees reunites frequent McDonagh collaborators Gleeson and Farrell in another dramatic/comedic leading duo that shine on the screen whether they’re sharing scenes or leading their own. Farrell is fantastic at utilising his range to give us the emotional and accidentally comedic character in Pádraic while Gleeson provides us with the antithesis of Pádraic in the grumpy and potentially depressed Colm. Condon gives us a much-needed bridge between Pádraic and Colm in Pádraic’s sister Siobhán. She can express exactly what we as an audience wish we could say to the characters and remains very level-headed despite dealing with her own feelings of loneliness and isolation. Condon very much holds her own between Farrell and Gleeson. We also have Keoghan portraying a young lad named Dominic who is friends with Pádraic and Siobhán. Dominic appears to have his own learning difficulties and comes across as very blunt yet innocent. Where Farrell deals with the dark comedy, Keoghan gives us the lighter comedy that breaks up the intensity, although Dominic too is dealing with his own patriarchal issues. Keoghan is much like a young Farrell, in that he has the range to pull off many attributes in one character, and he gives us someone to enjoy, laugh at and pity all at once with Dominic. Overall McDonagh has once again given us characters that represent much about the human condition that we can recognise and empathise with while also not entirely understanding why people act the way that they do.
Despite having very few feature films to his name, McDonagh certainly knows how to wow an audience and make an incredible impact. It’s partly a shame that his feature films are few and far between, however if that means his work is consistently exceptional, then it’s a small price to pay for great art and entertainment. It’s also not a bad thing that he continues to involve Gleeson and Farrell in his work, as something about the three of them just works to bring interesting and entertaining stories to life. The Banshees of Inisherin is one of those films that will absolutely hold your attention, and probably leave you with lots of questions about the characters that will likely go forever unanswered. You may be shocked by some of the events in the film, and you may also have a few existential thoughts of your own, but ultimately you will be entertained by this little green gem of a film.