The Banshees of Inisherin review

The Banshees of Inisherin is funny, violent and one of the best films of 2022

4.5 stars out of 5

With his eyebrows crossed into a confused knot, Pádraic (Colin Farrell) can’t quite make sense of his best friend’s abrupt coldness. As The Banshees of Inisherin begins, he walks along the seashore on the island of Inisherin. The sun shines as men work, casting up just enough mist for a rainbow to cascade across the port. It’s 2 p.m., and Pádraic is en route to visit his friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson) so they can walk to the pub together as they do every afternoon. When he arrives, though, Colm doesn’t answer. He sits alone in his one-room house, smoking. Confused, Pádraic heads to the pub, unaware that his routine is forever disrupted.

Pádraic will soon find out that Colm no longer wants to be friends. Pádraic is dull, and Colm is tired of wasting his life on idle chatter. He wants to make a name for himself as a musician. He wants to mingle with other artists, and he wants to leave his mark on the world. As Pádraic tries to make sense of his friend’s decision, a civil war wages on the mainland. The average resident of Inisherin, caught in the day-to-day minutia and gossip of the island, can’t be bothered to know why they’re even fighting. 

Working in broad strokes, Martin McDonagh paints a portrait of a conflict over what it means to live a good life. On the one hand, the question of legacy emerges — the importance of leaving your mark on the world. For Colm, that means composing music. Songs last longer than a kind word or a warm feeling; music is his only key to immortality. For Pádraic, though, that kind of legacy seems pointless. What is the point of living if you cannot be kind? To be loved and appreciated by those closest to you should count for more than anything. 

Largely comedic, the film frequently veers into the grotesque, particularly as Colm decides to cut off his nose to spite his face as he threatens to slice off his fiddle-playing fingers if Pádraic bothers him again. The film is similarly punctuated by random acts of violence, perpetuated mainly by an incestuous, sadistic copper. The quaintness of the film’s proposition, particularly matched by the simple-mindedness of Pádraic, is continually undercut by the true scope of life’s cold brutality. 

The Banshees of Inisherin is attentive to the specificity of its environment, embracing a sense of the baroque in its operatic approach to the material. The characters are broad stereotypes forged from the isolation and languor of island living. They speak in riddles and muddled accents, huddled most day and night in the pub. The animal world encroaches on all aspects of life, offering solace and occasionally a bitter reflection on the comings and goings of man. Each moment of the film is intentional and infused with the pleasures of language and character. It’s a rare film that embraces artifice and stupidity as a means of reaching greater truths. 

The film’s real heart lies in the spectacular performances. Not just Farrell and Gleeson reunited for the first time since In Bruges, but also Barry Keoghan as the dim-witted Dominic and Kerry Condon as Pádraic’s headstrong sister Siobhan. There’s a windswept-ness infused in the souls of each of the characters, but though worn down by the gusts and the sea, there’s still a wistful dreaminess that pushes them forward. It’s a film that, among other things, hinges on the fact that characters don’t waste away in indecision but are willing to make firm, risky choices to improve their stock in life.

It’s challenging to write about a film like The Banshees of Inisherin, where so much of the appeal is ethereal; in the misty green tones and plastic faces of its actors. While relatively small in scope, it’s a film that plays beautifully with a crowd touching on ideas and concerns pertinent to most of our lives. It’s a fascinating film about the nature of art, particularly, and what’s worth risking to try making a name for yourself. Without question, this is one of the year’s greater cinematic pleasures. 

The Banshees of Inisherin (directed by Martin McDonagh)

The Banshees of Inisherin opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Oct. 28.

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