Oh, the joys of sinking into a piece of really, really great cinema. Even if The Banshees of Inisherin doesn’t always feel quite like a movie.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie as unequivocally excellent as The Banshees of Inisherin, written and directed by Martin McDonagh and starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. Set on the small island of Inisherin, just off the coast of Ireland, in the midst of the Irish civil war, it’s a gorgeously sharp character study peppered with a sharp-elbowed Irish wit and two career-best performances from our leading men.
It’s a simple and instantly compelling premise: after years of friendship, Colm (Gleeson) announces he doesn’t want to be friends with Pádraic (Farrell) anymore, and he will go to any lengths to make it happen. The smallness of this conflict against the comparatively vast and complex battles of the Irish civil war – quite literally happening in the background of this story, with gunfire and explosions pock-marking the horizon over the course of this insular movie – allows for a micro-focus on these two men and the community that has crafted them into the people they are, and it’s a testament to McDonagh’s screenwriting talent how fully-formed and rich they feel as characters.
Colin Farrell particularly shines as Pádraic, doing his best to manage the grief of losing a friend without the words to really navigate what it means. A couple of outstanding supporting performances from Kerry Condon and my own personal favourite Barry Keoghan fill out the world with people who feel real, people struggling with their own issues outside of Colm and Pádraic’s tiny, devastating break-up.
I think what I adore so much about Banshees – and what makes it seem so un-movie like, in some ways – is how it feels like an extension of McDonagh’s excellent stage work. Yes, there’s some lovely cinematography here, and it does work beautifully as a film. But the small setting and the reliance on actors to really bring out the nuance in these characters gives this film the feel of an exquisite piece of staged drama. There’s so much focus here on conversation, what can be revealed with a word or a lack of one, what’s unspoken in this small community and what’s too much of an open secret, in a way that feels like a pitch-perfect piece of theatre, and I think, conversely, it’s what makes it such a wonderful film.
It’s not relying on cinematic tricks to pull off a great story (though there’s nothing wrong with films that do) – it’s story, character, themes laid out bare. And it takes a real master to make that work, but McDonagh, luckily enough, is just that.
By Lou MacGregor
(header image via Esquire)