The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

Wild ‘Banshees’ will get your Irish up

We’re all familiar with the old saw, “cut off your nose to spite your face.” But leave it to the deliciously warped mind of playwright Martin McDonagh to twist that adage into, “cut off your fingers to spite your ex-bestie.” And as only he can, McDonagh interprets it in the most literal sense in his wickedly dark Irish fable, “The Banshees of Inisherin.” In it, nothing is spared – be it pinkies, thumbs, or pointers – in giving the finger to toxic masculinity.

The premise involves just two men, easygoing Padraic (Colin Farrell) and his far more erudite mucker, Colm (Brendan Gleeson). They’ve been meeting for a daily pint for decades on the remote, picturesque isle of Inisherin … until suddenly one day, Colm makes it known throughout the village that he can no longer stomach the sight of the doltish Padraic. The question on everyone’s lips is, “Why?” It’s simple, says Colm, he’s “dull.”

He’s right, of course. But is that any reason to launch an all-out blood feud in which fingers fly and tempers flair? You bet it is, or at least in achieving McDonagh’s objective of presenting the donnybrook as an allegoric treatise on a widening occurrence of neighbor irrationally turning on neighbor the world over. Given his astute perception of human nature, McDonagh makes it sting. But not until he has you laughing your arse off at the stream of biting dialogue flowing from the actors’ lips like Guinness from the tap.

It helps to have a passing knowledge of Irish lore, particularly the legend of the ghostly banshees portending death. As far as I could tell, there’s only one such figure present in the form of the sardonic Mrs. McCormick (Sheila Flitton), dutifully serving as McDonagh’s version of an acerbic Greek chorus. So, why the plural “Banshees”? And where are all the screams attributed to the mythical female reapers? In McDonagh’s off-kilter world, it’s the men catalyzing the uproar and death.

As in McDonagh’s previous films, “In Bruges,” “Seven Psychopaths” and his Oscar-winning “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” violence features prominently. But it’s not just physical. In fact, one could make the case that in “Banshees,” it’s the escalating barbs and misdeeds that are far more lethal. Given that approach, the ultimate body count is minimal. Unusual for a McDonagh flick, but each death, be it man or beast, is profound and affecting.

You feel it to your very bones. And if some of that osseous matter happens to be of the funny variety, all the better. But the chief lure in what’s rightly being called the year’s finest film is the reunion of Farrell and Gleeson. “In Bruges” established that the two resolute Irishmen have chemistry to burn. It’s certainly evident here, but this time the duo go deeper in tapping into the souls of two men who let pride and indifference get the better of them.

Gleeson is wonderful at again portraying the thinker, the guy who falsely believes he has all the answers. He also proves a mighty fair fiddler in rosining up the bow to compose the movie’s haunting theme song, part of a glorious soundtrack compiled by Carter Burwell. But the story, eloquently shot by Ben Davis, belongs to Farrell, summoning a career-best performance that is the epitome of a slow burn in transforming Padraic from meek to merciless.

Through it all, Farrell miraculously holds tight to Padraic’s humanity. And he accomplishes it largely through his expressive eyes, which are soulful and childlike, particularly early on, when Padraic is rendered dumbfounded and confused by his pal’s sudden distaste for him. Much of what ensues involves Padraic, like a spurned lover, making desperate attempts at regaining favor, only to further alienate himself from Colm. Ultimately, it’s not so much the loss of his friend as it is the resulting loneliness that erodes him most.

Matching Padraic in his feelings of unrelenting desolation are his sister, Siobhan (a superb Kerry Condon from “Better Call Saul”); and Siobhan’s wannabe suitor, Dominic (Barry Keoghan). Then there’s Dominic’s father, Peadar (Gary Lydon), a cop and a bully seemingly devoid of any redeeming qualities. It’s men like him that inspire Siobhan to lash out at Inisherin’s males in proclaiming them “all f–king boring.” And if not for the Irish Civil War dragging on across the channel, she would have fled this at once idyllic and hellish island long ago.

In setting the film in the spring of 1923, when the mainland debacle was concluding, McDonagh engages the echoes of war to create a subtle, but ideal, backdrop for the personal conflict waged between Colm and Padraic. As in battle, there are no winners when former friends opt to fight instead of attempting to understand. It’s an obvious parallel to our current Red vs. Blue deadlock at home. And the hateful rhetoric it incites has grown so divisive and loud, the banshee’s piercing howl can no longer be heard.

Movie review

The Banshees of Inisherin

Rated: R for language throughout, brief graphic nudity, some violent content

Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan and Gary Lydon

Director: Martin McDonagh

Writer: Martin McDonagh

Run time: 109 minutes

Grade: A

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