Released: 26 December 2022
Seen: 12th January 2023
Martin McDonaugh is a strange but fascinating filmmaker. With three films under his belt (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) the man has already developed a specific style of tragicomedy that can be so dark and bizarre that it’s strangely captivating. His first film, In Bruges, is still probably his best because of the rapid-fire dialogue and the undeniable chemistry of the two lead actors. Something about the combination of Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson just worked so spectacularly together, so much so that clearly Martin wanted to recreate that magic again with The Banshees of Inisherin and for the most part he has.
The Banshees of Inisherin introduces us to a pair of old friends, Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) and Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) who live on the little island of Inisherin around the Irish Civil War of 1923. One day Colm decides, seemingly out of nowhere, that he no longer wishes to be friends with Pádraic. Colm has decided that he is no longer going to waste time with people who he finds to be dull, and as far as he’s concerned there is no one duller than Pádraic.
Pádraic, however, doesn’t want to end their friendship so he keeps on trying his darndest to get Colm to speak to him which only leads Colm to make an ultimatum, either Pádraic leaves him alone or Colm will take a big pair of shears and cut off one of his own fingers and send it to Pádraic. The big question is will Colm follow through with his threat or will the two old friends somehow work this out… no, it’s a Martin McDonaugh movie, of course it’s not going to work out.
Once again that combination of Colin and Brendan is electrifying, even though they pointedly spend a large chunk of the film apart. There is this underlying feeling of a lost friendship that they sell without ever needing to go into detail about how long they’ve been friends. You can tell by looking at their few interactions that they’ve known each other for so long that they understand each other better than anyone else ever could. You get that sense in the little things, the looks on their faces when they bump into each other or Colm helping Pádraic home even after the first finger cutting. It all helps to sell why it’s so hard for Pádraic to let go of their friendship, even as he’s getting Colm’s severed fingers thrown at his door where any ass could accidentally stumble upon it.
The entire storyline between Colm and Pádraic is so over the top and strange that it’s fascinating… it’s when The Banshees of Inisherin focuses on anyone else that it isn’t as good. It feels like the film had a solid 70-90 minute story of a pair of former friends in this elaborate back and forth and someone realised films nowadays seem to need to be 2 hours long. To correct this issue they had to pad it so they threw in this kid who is being beaten by his cop father that honestly just seems to be there to add more darkness to The Banshees of Inisherin (a film that, again, is literally about friends not talking and severe self-mutilation as a form of punishment).
This isn’t to say that the other characters aren’t interesting or well-acted, they absolutely are some fascinating characters with some glorious moments. The kid Dominic (Barry Keoghan) is absolutely charming and you can’t help but feel sorry for him (plus any excuse to have Barry Keoghan in a film is one I can get behind, he’s a fascinating actor), his abusive cop dad Garda Peadar Kearney (Gary Lydon) is basically the exact person that you imagine when you hear the phrase “All Cops Are Bastards” and Pádraic’s sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon) might be one of the nicest characters in a film strangely full of nice characters. They’re all absolutely wonderfully performed and fascinating but they keep distracting from the main story and just feel like they were there to make the film longer when it works best when it’s just the two men and a couple of assorted farm animals
The Banshees of Inisherin is certainly an interesting film with a fantastic cast and a lot of snappy one-liners that are almost trademark Martin McDonagh. If you enjoyed In Bruges, you’re going to get a kick out of this one because they share a lot in common. Where The Banshees of Inisherin fumbles is in the moments where it tries to explore beyond its main leads and taking 2 hours to tell a story that just feels like it’s taking its sweet time when it didn’t need to. It’s still a great movie, there’s a good reason why it’s being showered with awards for its cast and the man behind it, but you can’t help but wish it were just a little tighter in some areas to make the gut punch moments hit that much harder.