Cinema Review: The Banshees of Inisherin

Posted 9 months ago in Cinema Reviews

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It’s award season, and if the Golden Globes are any guide, we’re quietly confident for Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin.

Filmmaker and erstwhile playwright Martin McDonagh has his indulgences. His often entertaining works tend to have a strain of juvenilia running through them, either by way of irreverence or grotesquerie. A sort of “can you believe these characters are even saying these things?” factor. Why, yes we can. You’re Martin McDonagh.

Originally intended as a play, the film opens with Pádraic (Farrell) calling on his best friend Colm (Gleeson) to come down to the pub with him. But Colm doesn’t respond and later cuts Pádraic to the quick by stating he no longer wants to pal around with him on account of Pádraic’s dullness. Meanwhile, what with this being set in 1923, The Civil War looms large in the background, threatening to make mere metaphor of all and sundry.

Good thing then that everyone here is on fire. The scenes crackle with comic energy, and yet a thick melancholic pall is cast over proceedings. This feels less broad than McDonagh’s previous outings, the comedy more grounded, stemming from character. Farrell’s expressive performance – one of his best ever – is the film’s beating heart, alternately eliciting pathos and riotous hilarity. It’s impossible not to feel for him when Colm blithely terminates their friendship, the hurt slowly registering in Pádraic’s eyes before reaching full bloom. Pádraic’s relationship with his sister also evokes poignancy, with a great turn from Kerry Condon as Siobhan, her exacerbated wit tempered by a kindness. Siobhan transcends the stock female nag character.

Bereft, Pádraic settles for the companionship of uncouth Dominic (a scene-stealing Keoghan).  Impish and slyly inveigling, Dominic proves to be wiser than he looks and harbours an earnest romantic longing for Siobhan. The film’s also gorgeous looking, almost too perfect in its postcard prettiness. With this heady brew of hard-edge comedy and emotional depth, it occurred to me I was watching McDonagh’s best film.

But then, in response to Pádraic’s indefatigable attempts to resuscitate their friendship, Colm gives him the most grisly of ultimatums, which I won’t spoil – though the oversharing trailer may have already.

And when Colm delivers good on his promise, the air goes out of what was an immensely pleasurable film. Just like Tarantino can’t resist giving himself a cameo, the McDonagh of old rears his head, as he succumbs to his usual indulgences of edginess and ghoulishness. With this gory, fable-like escalation of the drama, the characters go from being embodied to notional, flattened-out archetypes.

Pulpy ultra-violence has its place but it doesn’t suit this milieu. It betrays the first half’s promise, the homespun character-driven specificity that was relatable and dramatic enough already. Everyday male friendship is rarely the sole engine of a drama, so it’s a pity the semi-realism doesn’t prevail.

The tone in the third act has a bad case of worthiness, too. After all, edginess and – somewhat conversely – worthiness are both hallmarks of adolescence. McDonagh has stated that he set out to make a sad film, and much sombreness gets forced on us. The funniness all but departs. The light and shade here are overly dualistic; a mingling would have been preferable.

That said, the film remains compelling if lesser for its big turning point. And when a local hag foretells deaths, what comes to pass is a surprise, but feels apposite. Like The Civil War, these older men have allowed their beef to subsume everything, blinding them to the precariousness of those more vulnerable.

There’s much brilliance here, but it comes when McDonagh reins in his need to provoke.

Words: Rory Kiberd

Illustration: Trea Ivory

The Banshees of Inisherin

Director: Martin McDonagh

Talent: Brendan Gleeson, Colin Farrell, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan

Release Date: October 21


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Dublin Theater Festival -23 – MPU


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