The Banshees of Inisherin – Review

A hundred years ago on an island off the coast of Ireland, the quiet and quaint village of Inisherin has one single pub that serves pints of dark beer alongside the occasional fiddle song or friendly squabble between old pals. 

One such pair of friends gets into a spat every couple of years, and it becomes one of the more interesting sources of gossip and entertainment for fellow pub-goers. They are an odd pair, but they seem to balance each other out. One is a simple farmer, living with his sister and an assortment of well-fed animals. Their house is small and humble, tinged with the sadness of lost parents. 

The other is a stoic bard, smiling only when he gets to ponder on his musical sensibilities and care for his shepherd dog. His house is decorated with tribal masks and other trinkets, memorabilia from his worldly travels. It’s the perfect place to sit in peace and gather inspiration from the crashing waves of the beaches nearby. 

Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in the film THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

Their drunken arguments add life and color to the quiet town, but this time it seems to have gone too far. We meet the farmer, Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell), confused and taken aback by the musician, Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson), refusing to speak to him. 

Colm argues that Pádraic is wasting his time with pointless and aimless conversations, preventing him from dedicating his time fully to music. Pádraic refuses to be ignored and wants to know why his friend doesn’t want to be friends anymore. And so our story plays out in playful hilarity, as Farrell’s bumbling and lovable simpleton tries again and again to recover a suddenly lost friendship. 

Along the way are Kerry Condon as the aforementioned sister, Siobhan Súilleabháin, and the always deliciously eerie Barry Keoghan as Dominic Kearney, son of the local lone policeman, subject to his drunken torments. 

Kerry Condon in the film THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN. Photo by Jonathan Hession. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

Writer-director Martin McDonagh delivers a near-perfect dark comedy in the first half, made engaging by outstanding performances from the entire cast. The sense of place in this Irish semi-fable is widely effective, especially as the background of the Irish Civil War reveals itself, and the story takes a turn into the darkness with a creepily prophetic old woman leering around every corner. 

McDonagh has made a name for himself as a very specific dark comedy filmmaker, gaining a wide range of awards recognition for his previous film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. Banshees, however, is not only a reunion for his two In Bruges leads, but a return to a basic approach to his practical skills, zeroing in on his characters in a more contained setting, allowing them to blossom without layering on thick social commentary. Three Billboards has been subject to a swath of criticism for approaching broadly obvious social commentary of the United States by an outsider Irish filmmaker. Personally, I didn’t mind it too much. The film didn’t jump out at me as an obvious awards movie, but I wasn’t as negative about it as some of my peers. 

Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell in the film THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN. Photo by Jonathan Hession. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

I think Banshees does a much better job than Billboards of conveying its themes and ideas without sacrificing the believability of its characters and settles into its tragic second half without straining too much. This is mostly due to the incredibly captivating performance by Colin Farrell, who gives us perhaps the best work of his career, bridging the gap between the hilarious and the serious. 

The story really pivots into this darkness and gloom when Colm tells Pádraic that he will cut off a finger every time he talks to him. Pádraic calls Colm’s bluff, so sure of himself that he will not do such violent self-mutilation just to prove a point. The second half of this film thinks otherwise, and so we get a true “men would rather cut off their own fingers than go to therapy” story. Somehow, it all clicks together. The jump in tonality is pretty seamless. It feels earned, and the motivations behind the actions of these two friends feel true, even though they are really extreme. 

Colin Farrell and Barry Keoghan in the film THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN. Photo by Jonathan Hession. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

The meaning here is both simple and complex. On one hand, the surface reading is of male friendship, and our general inability to open up emotionally with each other. Vulnerability and honesty are more difficult to tap into than stupidity and violence. But I think the deeper meaning is one of compromise. Maybe true universal friendship is rooted in communication and meeting each other halfway. If only Colm had understood his friend’s desire to talk about seemingly unimportant subjects, he could have sat and listened because that is what friends do. If only Pádraic had taken the time to realize that maybe it’s okay to sit in silence and sip a beer while his friend practices his fiddle playing.

Of all the tragic and heartbreaking moments in the second half of this story, perhaps the most memorable is the fact that these two old friends were too stubborn to have a real conversation with each other to truly understand what they want from their friendship. If they would have done that, perhaps much would have been saved.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

4.5 feckin’ donkeys out of 5

The Banshees of Inisherin is out only in theaters on October 21st

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