In The Banshees of Inisherin, award-winning writer/director Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) asks a fundamental question: is it actually important to be known or remembered as a nice person? Wisely leaving that for us to decide, he chooses instead to lead audiences on a farcically convoluted yet infinitely rewarding journey through the trials and tribulations of not loving thy neighbour.
In the filmmaker’s capable hands, this pitch-black comedy ingeniously paints a picture of human foibles running amok. Having a bit of fun at the expense of both his Irish and Catholic upbringings, he creates a consummate analysis of human dynamics. The result is pure magic: it’s as captivating as a tall tale but as bracing as a hard dose of reality.
McDonagh’s story follows Colm (Brendan Gleeson) and Pádraic (Colin Farrell), two best mates who fall out because one thinks the other is just too boring to be around any longer. After Colm abruptly proclaims that he’d rather spend the time he’s got left on earth crafting the perfect ballad, Pádraic insists that his friend can’t be serious. He then spends the entirety of the film seeking out the advice of his long-suffering sister (Kerry Condon) and the not-so-merry group of eccentrics that live in their remote Irish village in hopes of convincing Colm to change his mind.
Although the events of The Banshees of Inisherin are specific to a time and place—a quaint community on the picturesque (fictional) island of Inisherin in 1923—the film’s distinct characteristics operate on a much broader scope. McDonagh uses this microcosm of a situation to conjure ancient associations around the settling of disputes despite. He ably builds a sense of growing unease (and increases the ripple effect) too with bursts of gunfire from the Irish Civil War raging across the channel on the mainland.
McDonagh is very much in control here. Reuniting with his In Bruges co-stars, Farrell and Gleeson, The Banshees of Inisherin fairly crackles with the cast’s note-perfect performances. His direction has just the right dashes of both subtlety and severity. There’s not a moment, detail or beat that goes wasted in this taut examination of a relationship gone wrong.
He expertly transforms this narrative of a friendly dispute devolved past the point of no return into a more emblematic statement. With its mix of idyll and absurdity, the film unravels like a fable, albeit one that remains resoundingly current.
The Banshees of Inisherin is one of the warmest, funniest, and most disturbing films of the year. It’s a haunting reminder of how easily a conflict can turn irreparable. This is a film that brilliantly transcends its locale to speak to everyone.
The Banshees of Inisherin arrives in theatres October 28.