Film Review: “The Banshees of Inisherin” Sings a Moving Tune
Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | November 3rd, 2022
The Banshees of Inisherin (Martin McDonagh, 2022) 3½ out of 4 stars.
In 2008, Irish playwright Martin McDonagh (The Lonesome West) made his feature-film debut with In Bruges, pairing actors Colin Farrell (Widows) and Brendan Gleeson (The Tragedy of Macbeth) together in what proved to be a winning combination. In his newest movie, The Banshees of Inisherin, he brings them back together and the results, while not as deliriously fun as the first time, are still extremely engaging.
The year is 1923 and we are on the fictional island of Inisherin, off the coast of the Irish mainland, where civil war still rages. Pádraic (Farrell) is an easygoing fellow who lives with his sister, Siobhan (Kerry Condon, Dreamland), on a small farm where the animals roam in and out of the house (especially an adorable miniature donkey named Jenny). His best friend and drinking buddy is Colm (Gleeson), with whom he has been in the habit of wiling away the hours at the local pub.
Until today, that is. After a beautifully photographed pastoral opening during which the camera crosses a series of lovely landscapes of land and sea, Pádraic arrives at Colm’s house for the usual 2pm walk to the pub, only to be rebuffed by silence. Confused, he heads off on his own, then goes back after ordering his normal pint. But Colm leaves out the back, and when Pádraic catches up to him at the pub, tells Pádraic he doesn’t like him anymore. It’s a sudden end to what had been a cherished part of Pádraic’s life.
There’s not a lot to do on Inisherin, though given the conflict just across the water, perhaps that’s not the worst thing. Siobhan, a dedicated reader, yearns for more than what she has, but Pádraic is happy enough. Or was, until Colm breaks his heart. His only hope for male companionship lies with Dominic (Barry Keoghan, Eternals), the island misfit, abused by his father, the local policeman. But nothing and no one can replace Colm, though Jenny the donkey does her best.
Small stakes loom large, a metaphor for the rift consuming the Irish in the wake of English colonialism. The movie is also just as much about the sacrifices we make for the sake of something larger than ourselves, as Colm claims he wants time to work on his music (eventually composing the titular ditty). Who doesn’t desire eternal glory, but is it really worth destroying another’s happiness?
Filled with brilliant performances from the leads—Farrell, especially, shines in quiet moments—The Banshees of Inisherin is also expertly written, each scene alternatingly funny and tragic. Nevertheless, there are moments that are hard to watch, McDonagh not one to shy away from the worst of human behavior, self-destructive or otherwise. The movie is not for the faint of heart, so be forewarned. But for those who stick with it, the rewards are profound.