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Banshees of Inisherin

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What it’s about:

On a remote island off the coast of Ireland during the Civil War, Padraic visits his friend Colm for their usual 2pm visit to the local pub, only to find that Colm has decided from this day forth, he doesn’t want to be friends with Padraic anymore. As his sister Siobhan wrestles with her own struggles on the suffocating island, Padraic struggles to fathom his former friend’s reasoning, until the “nice guy” of the island is pushed to the edge.

Names you might know:

Colin Farrell (Lobster, The Batman) and Brendon Gleeson (The Guard, Calvary) team up with their In Bruges director, Martin McDonagh, who won an Oscar for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missour. Rising star Barry Keoghan (The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Calm With Horses) and Kerry Condon (Better Call Saul) also appear.

Why it’s worth your time:

It plays out like a fable. In a strong year of films with very clear archetypes, many of which have been made extremely well, Banshees of Inisherin feels somehow different. In a similar way to Everything Everywhere All at Once, the film is impeccably weaved into something special, the kind of movie that will undoubtedly earn a cult following.

Director Martin McDonagh is no stranger to cult cinema, of course. In Bruges was an endlessly quotable pitch-dark crime comedy, with smatterings of Tarantino and Guy Ritchie. Three Billboards was also set within a distinct mold, feeling like a top tier Coen brothers film. Banshees is a slow-burning, pondering tale which averts narrative complexity in favour of character depth. It’s probably more akin to the similarly unique characters and the tragicomedy of Withnail and I.

The film might sound like heavy going, and at times it takes a turn down enthralling dark paths that will cause discomfort. At the same time, it’s uproariously funny. The big screen response to the film when I watched it was regular explosions of laughter. The Irish brogue permeating the film is magnetic, and variations on a certain ‘F’ word will also bring to mind Father Ted (the mid-90s farcical sitcom about Irish priests on a remote island). McDonagh has always balanced farce, witty lines, jet-black comedy, drama and masses of pathos. Banshees might just be, even coming from a perpetual In Bruges quote-hog like myself, McDonagh’s masterpiece.

The cast or characters:  Colin Farrell has transitioned superbly into something of an indie film darling. He’s proven himself adept as a magnetic character actor, and here he’s affably naive as Padraic, all puppy dog eyes and wistfulness. When Padraic can’t hide his heartbreak at being unable to connect with his former best friend, the audience feels it tenfold. His hardening through the film is also brilliantly portrayed and suitably tragic.

Brendon Gleeson (Colm) is one of cinema’s most unheralded character actors. With an evocative twinkle in the eyes, he leaves the viewer desperate to know what’s going on in that enigmatic mind.

As Padraic’s sister Siobhan, Kerry Condon is also superb as the anchor who grounds the film, a mind and voice of sanity and reason on an island dominated by men who are either drunk, simple, stubborn, amoral or a mix of all.

Finally, there’s Dominic, played by BAFTA Rising Star Barry Keoghan (The Batman, The Killing of a Sacred Dear). In what could have been a crudely drawn clown is instead injected with depth and inner sadness, and beneath Dominic’s puerile sexual desperation is an unquenchable longing for love. One scene in particular with Dominic is so simple in the declaration but heartbreaking in the outcome.

What its really about?   Playing with metaphors and duality, the film opens up philosophical questions, both directly and beneath the surface, about the nature of life, existence, and legacy. It’s also a tale about futility and the irrationality of human nature, and how often we have no rhyme or reason for our behaviour.

It’s no afterthought that this plays out off the Irish coast during the Civil War, and the presence of the Catholic and Protestant fighting often intrudes on the soundscape and landscape throughout the film. As one character points out, “they don’t even know what they’re fighting about,” much like an escalating battle between the two old friends.

The takeaway:

Riotously funny while weighted by tragicomic depth, Banshees of Inisherin is exquisitely crafted with sharp writing, stunning photography and evocative music, bringing a distinct time and place to life. More than that, it’s anchored by sensational performances, each of which could easily warrant Oscar recognition. Expect to laugh, gasp and cry before the credits roll.

Watch it with:

An audience appreciative of dark comedies layered with emotional depth. Immediately quotable, Banshees is the kind of film that will earn more appreciation with subsequent viewings.

Worth noting:

As with some of McDonagh’s previous works, the dark comic moments include a few that are gruesome and harrowing. There’s a bluntness to the blood and violence in the film, often played for macabre laughs.

Some Backstory: Originally intended as the third part in a trilogy of plays known as the Aran Islands Trilogy. These would have included The Cripple of Inishmaan and The Lieutenant of Inishmore.

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