by Robbie Jones
Over the course of his film career, Martin McDonagh has extensively explored the lives and psyches of characters ranging from morally questionable to downright horrible human beings; be it hitmen, bigoted cops, or psychopathic killers – and, while not quite in the same category as those, a volatile grieving mother – McDonagh’s characters so far haven’t quite had a track record of being the most agreeable, rational or even nice.
That changes with his latest, The Banshees of Inisherin, which not only makes a case for the legacy of kindness but also the blessing that it is.
On the small island of Inisherin, Pádraic (Colin Farrell) is a mild-mannered farmer who goes to collect his best friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson) to go to the pub as they usually do. However, in the course of a day, Colm has decided he no longer wishes to be friends with Pádraic, much to the surprise of Pádraic and just about everyone on the island. Colm has put aside this friendship to focus on more intellectual, and artistic achievements, leaving Pádraic in a state of sadness and uncertainty that leads the two to bicker in ways that get progressively worse for both of them.
The Banshees of Inisherin shines with its quiet confrontation; even the most dramatic moments of this film don’t feel like outbursts, acting in service to the calm nature of the dispute. In setting the film on a small island where everyone knows everyone, just outside of the land where the Irish civil war is being fought, McDonagh puts into perspective the relatively minuscule nature of the film’s central conflict, yet still makes the stakes feel high in this isolated area.
The nature of Colm’s decision to sever ties with Pádraic is motivated by the fear of wasting his older years. He finds Pádraic dull and wishes to stimulate himself with more meaningful, intellectual conversations and create a legacy for himself with his music. It’s an understandable desire to have, especially later in life, but it comes across as cold and uncaring. That’s where’s Pádraic’s modus operandi of being kind, calling out badness when he sees it, and enjoying the simple pleasures of life becomes his own shield in this debate. It’s fascinating to watch these two compelling characters go at it with their outlooks on life – a scene where Pádraic drunkenly makes a case for niceness as its own legacy is the highlight of the film – and watch as it drives them both into circumstances that are far too silly for them both. It may not be quite like McDonagh’s other works, but it’s most certainly a dark comedy still, and without getting too deep into what that entails, the film can often be just as tragic as it is hilarious.
As performances go, it’ll be no shock to anyone that the cast of this film is pretty stellar, with Colin Farrell standing tall as the MVP; he embodies everything about Pádraic to perfection, accentuating his innocence, his simple mind, his drunk courage, and his love for his sister and his animals. Above all else, Farrell makes Padraic’s pleasantness not only a character trait but also the entire aura of that man, to the point where it feels (appropriately) stupid when Pádraic makes any attempt to be mean, as it doesn’t suit him at all. It reinforces the point that what Padraic’s niceness is a blessing, a privilege he holds, and it’s sad to see him drop it for any reason. One of the very best performances of his career, and the one that may finally bag him an Oscar nomination. He’s in good company with a reliably brilliant Brendan Gleeson, whose calmness and civility make him more terrifying than you might expect, and the pair play off each other excellently.
In supporting roles, Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan both knock it out of the park too; as Pádraic’s headstrong sister Siobhan, Condon commands the screen every time she enters it and embodies her boredom and longing as she dreams of bigger prospects outside of Inisherin. Keoghan stars as Dominic, a dim-witted but good-natured young man who is a friend to Pádraic when he needs it the most. Keoghan gives far and away the film’s funniest lines, but also has a sincere adorability to him, with a sensitive and childlike energy despite his foul mouth.
The Banshees of Inisherin is Martin McDonagh’s best work yet. A meaningful discussion that transforms into a quiet yet destructive conflict, sold beautifully by its incredible cast.
The Banshees of Inisherin is available to watch now on Disney+