“The Banshees of Inisherin” is, so far, my favorite film of 2022 and is even one of my all-time favorites, topping writer and director Martin McDonagh’s 2017 film, “Three Billboards, Outside of Ebbing, Missouri.” Released nationwide on Nov. 4, the film is a metaphor for the Irish Civil War, exploring relationships and their consequences. The dark comedy is done to perfection, as it uses satire to point out the more significant problems in Ireland at the time, while also building tension with morbid humor.
Set on a sleepy island off the coast of Ireland in 1923, the story centers on the line everyone fears hearing: “It’s not you, it’s me.” The good-hearted Padric (Colin Farrell), who has done nothing wrong, begs his former friend, Colm (Brendan Gleeson), to come back to him. We root for a happy ending for Padric, but for reasons that he can not change, Colm can no longer see himself being friends with Padric. While the film points us toward supporting Padric, the audience is not pitted against Colm.
The story of Colm and Padric’s doomed friendship is set against the backdrop of the Irish Civil War. The two friends are attached like those warring in Ireland, making a split difficult for both men. The war, which was difficult for those on the island to understand, is emphasized by the supporting characters’ confusion about why the two former friends are now fighting.
The conflict between Colm and Padric seems to come to an end as they stand on the beach together, looking at Ireland, stating they think the fighting will be over any day now. This reflects both the war and their friendship. While the war was over in the middle of 1923, the fighting and destruction went on for decades after the peace treaty was signed. McDonagh, through the use of his patterned dark comedy, makes for a strong ending that lets the viewer know that Colm and Padric are in for a future of struggle and co-existence like that of Ireland.
The duo of Farrell and Gleeson is sure to lead “The Banshees of Inisherin” to Oscar acclaim, as both had incredible performances, which highlighted the ambiguity in their friendship of who was at fault, if anyone. The clearest example of this is when Colm apologizes to Padric for ending his friendship and the pain in Gleeson’s face is evident, making the viewer sympathize with both characters.
McDonagh once again created a fantastic localized story that made compelling characters turn against each other. “Banshees” is a step in a more mature direction for McDonagh. Since Mcdonagh’s directorial debut with the tragic hero story of “In Bruges” and his follow-up effort, “Seven Psychopaths,” which focused on darker characters and plots, he’s written more complex and layered characters.
Colm and Padric are McDonagh’s first characters who aren’t criminals dealing with their dark pasts. Instead, they attempt to deal with loss and grief with dialogue. This film sticks out to me more than McDonagh’s others because of the way the main characters’ complex relationship drives the film’s actions.
The visuals of “The Banshees of Inisherin” trump any of McDonagh’s previous movies. He collaborated with Cinematographer Ben Davis for the third time on this film. Davis’ work displayed the small island in vivid greens, showing the mainland covered in clouds at the beginning and end to mark that the characters are very much in the same situation as they were at the beginning of the film. Davis’ work is overall masterful from start to finish
Brendan Gleeson and Carter Burwell collaborated to put together an impressive score for this film. The score helps transport the viewer to 20th-century Ireland, providing diegetic music for the characters to play and background music to highlight the characters’ journey going from a hopeful score to a more somber and defeated tone towards the end of the film.
Farrell’s performance is incredible, making you feel like he is the “dull” Irish man from the ’20s whose only interest is to drink the day away, talk with his friends and enjoy himself. Farrell is able to convey that Padric is faking a dark and rude persona when he thinks it’s in his best interest. In my opinion, it is Farrell’s best performance under Mcdonagh and possibly his best ever.
Gleeson plays the stubborn older friend who sees his life wasting away and is scared no one will remember him when he is gone. He matches Farrell’s performance, providing an equal counterweight as a man who believes he must leave an academic, artistic impression on the world. Gleeson conveys Colm’s discontent with letting life pass him by in a compelling way, making the audience question if he or Padric is in the wrong.
“Banshees” provides a strong message about the nature of small-scale and large-scale relationships without sacrificing the humor and entertainment we have come to expect for a McDonagh film. This is what is distinct about this film, instead of being a pure “popcorn movie” meant to entertain us and nothing more or being an “artsy film” that may bore you or try too hard to make its message heard. “Banshees” is able to balance both and to me, that is the pinnacle of a great film.