The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) Film Review

The Banshees of Inisherin
Martin McDonagh Returns in Spectacular Form with “The Banshees of Inisherin”. Barry Keoghan’s role that could have gone unnoticed or, worse, ended up like the John Mills travesty in “Ryan’s Daughter”. However, Keoghan does something transcendent with the part, investing it with subtle touches and inflections. It’s the performance of the year. Witness his heartbreaking scene with Condon when he, in his inimitable way, expresses his love for her.

Originally written as the third part of his second trilogy of stage plays set in the Aran Islands off the coast of County Galway, Ireland – “The Cripple of Inishmaan” (1996) and “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” (2001) have already done the rounds as has his most famous work “The Beauty Queen of Lenane” (1996), the first play of the first trilogy which was set in Connemara on the mainland – “The Banshees of Inisherin” has been reworked by an older and wiser McDonagh into a screenplay and a movie of Bergman-Esque despair that also happens to be very funny and is sprinkled, at intervals, with McDonagh’s penchant for violence and gore (Inisherin is a modified spelling of the third and smallest of the Aran islands, Inisheer). Following the mixed outcome of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” McDonagh has returned to the terrain of his childhood with spectacular results.

Set on Inisheer on the closing days of the Irish Civil war in 1923 (you can hear the occasional explosion and gunshot from the mainland), the film reunites McDonagh’s Vladimir and Estragon (Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell) from his marvelous Beckettian 2008 feature debut “In Bruges” and, in the process, solidifies them as one of the big screen’s immortal duos.

McDonagh’s gorgeous dialogue and stunningly assured direction are on display from the opening shot as Pádraic (Farrell), a small farmer, who has completed his few morning chores, turns up at the home of the lifelong friend Colm (Gleeson). It’s 2 pm and time to go to the pub. This time, however, something is different. When Pádraic knocks at the door he gets no response. Peeking in the window, he sees Colm inside smoking and brooding in silence.

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

Why wouldn’t he answer the door to me? A perplexed Pádraic says to the barman (Pat Shortt) and later to his sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon) when they are about to sit down for the supper she has prepared in the little cottage they share with Jenny, their adorable miniature donkey!

The next day, back at the pub, Colm confirms to Pádraic that he has done or said nothing to offend him. I just don’t like you no more. And, after further insistent questioning, Colm delivers the coup de grace telling Pádraic he thinks he’s dull. Colm, having reached a late-in-life crisis, has decided to spend his remaining years in monk-like contemplation and composing music on his fiddle. The latter activity gets him involved with a bunch of students from the mainland rubbing more salt into Pádraic’s wound.

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

Dull is a word that Pádraic had ever associated with himself. Now, he becomes obsessed with it. So much so that Siobhán, who cares deeply for her brother, accosts Colm and, in what may be the film’s best scene, delivers a salvo of inspired dialogue:

But he’s always been dull. What’s changed?

Siobhán

I’ve changed. I just don’t have a place in me life for dullness anymore.

Colm

But you live on an island off the coast of Ireland, Colm – what the hell are hopin’ for, like?

Siobhán

Siobhán is the movie’s voice of reason. A voracious reader, she is the only character who wants to better herself and the only one who has thoughts of leaving the island. She wants Pádraic to come with her to the mainland. She wants them to get away from the bleakness and the grudges and the loneliness and spite.

Condon, who gives one of the two unforgettable supporting performances in the movie, is breathtakingly good, capturing every scene she’s in with a mixture of common sense and sadness but always with a drollness lurking in the background. It’s an Oscar-worthy performance.

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

The other Oscar-worthy performance comes from Barry Keoghan who plays Dominic, the son of the community’s sadistic policeman (Gary Lydon) who abuses him. Dominic is regarded by everyone on the island as the local fool and although Pádraic, on the rebound from Colm’s rejection, spends more time with him, he regards Dominic as being beneath him. This role could have gone unnoticed or, worse, ended up like the John Mills travesty in “Ryan’s Daughter.” However, Keoghan does something transcendent with the part, investing it with subtle touches and inflections. It’s arguably the performance of the year. Witness his heartbreaking scene with Condon when he, in his inimitable way, expresses his love for her.

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

As the film progresses, Pádraic is convinced that Colm is depressed and needs help. This prompts Colm’s threat to cut off a finger from his fiddle-playing hand for every time that Pádraic approaches him. “Banshees,” being a Martin McDonagh movie, the threat is utterly profound. Their final scene together on a beach, leaves no easy answers. No real hope of a reconciliation. Only anger and sadness, and the bleak terrain as we look out onto the Atlantic Ocean.

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