By George Bate and Josh Reilly B.
Fourteen years ago, writer-director Martin McDonagh collaborated with Irish stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson to make In Bruges, a black comedy drama film centered on two hitmen forced into hiding. The film became something of a cult classic as the two lead stars were praised for their performances. Farrell won a Golden Globe for his work, ironically holding off Gleeson, who was nominated in the same category. McDonagh also received his first Academy Award nomination that year for Best Original Screenplay.
In 2022, this trio reunited to make The Banshees of Inisherin, a film centered around the dissolving friendship between two men. Pádraic Súillebhán (Farrell) is abruptly cut off from his best friend, Colm Doherty (Gleeson). Doherty asserts that there’s no wrongdoing on anyone’s behalf and that he wants to go their own separate ways as he believes Súillebhán is simply too boring and dull for him. Kerry Condon also stars as Farrell’s sister, Siobhan, and Barry Keoghan of Dunkirk and The Batman has a supporting role as the island’s outcast young man. The premise is relatively simple, but McDonagh’s film does go quite a distance in committing to the story, as does Gleeson’s character. Doherty begins to cut off his fingers every time his former friend attempts to communicate with him, eventually leading him to have no fingers whatsoever on one of his hands.
The Banshees of Inisherin exists as a film not necessarily meant to entertain viewers as much as it is to make them think. This is a deeply personal, thematic film, and one that certainly takes some pondering and settling in before coming to a strict conclusion on the final product. In this regard, McDonagh’s film excels; very few titles this year will get audiences thinking as much as this one. There’s also some less overt details that provide further context to the story, but ones that American audiences might miss.
For example, this film takes place in 1923 on an island right off of the coast of Ireland. The mainland is extremely close in proximity, so much so that the residents of the island can hear the gunfire of the ongoing war from their homes. On the mainland, the conflict is pitting Irish people against each other, and one that will go on to irreparably affect and change the country.
On the outside, that conflict, which isn’t even mentioned all that much, appears as nothing more than a backdrop to further inform audiences of the time at which this film is set. However, it actually serves as a metaphor for these two core characters that have seen their friendship completely implode. Two Irishmen, two best friends, two neighbors, both of whom have known each other for presumably their entire lives and yet are pulled apart and permanently separated from each other due to fighting. This highlights some of the metaphors and deeper themes that Banshees has, and a key area that it explores extremely well.
This film is remarkably different from In Bruges, at least in terms of its setting and tone. The Banshees of Inisherin is more reflective and somber in nature and doesn’t necessarily have the same wit or charm as the trio’s first collaboration together. It might be relatively unfair to compare these two films, but the fact that they both share the same lead actors and creative team makes these sorts of parallels inevitable.
Colin Farrell is the true star of this film. His performance is raw, real, and extremely natural. Farrell is known to bring a sense of warmth and believability to his roles and does so again here, but to even bigger heights. Farrell is an A-list actor and has starred in some of the biggest and best films of the last two decades, including this year’s The Batman, Minority Report, and more. Yet in this new film, it’s hard to see him as anything but this mild mannered, good natured small town farmer who lives off of the coast of Ireland and is currently struggling in his platonic relationship with his best friend.
There’s a deep emotional pain that Farrell’s character has throughout this film as a result of this break up, if it can be described as such. This suffering feels so real and palpable that it, in a way, transcends the audience, such is the effectiveness of Farrell’s performance and McDonagh’s writing. Not to be overshadowed or overlooked, Brendan Gleeson also gives an excellent turn as Doherty, perfectly portraying a troubled, disturbed, and depressed individual.
From all of this, it’s clear that The Banshees of Inisherin isn’t exactly the easiest of films to watch, nor is it the most entertaining of the year. Some might find these qualities as negatives, particularly as the pacing is predictably and purposefully slow throughout. However, this ultimately might come down to personal preference, as it’s abundantly clear throughout that Banshees is meant to challenge the audience rather than provide an emotionally comforting or cathartic viewing. For some, that might be too much, but for others it might be the perfect kind of food for thought.
The Banshees of Inisherin is a serious awards contender this year, and for good reason. Colin Farrell gives an excellent performance in the lead role and it’s a real treat to see him reunite with Brendan Gleeson, even if this is a very different movie from the likes of In Bruges. This might not be for everyone, but it is sure to be enjoyed by those who like to watch awards contenders.