Director: Martin McDonagh
Writer: Martin McDonagh
Stars: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson
Synopsis: Two lifelong friends find themselves at an impasse when one abruptly ends their relationship, with alarming consequences for both of them.
There are just a few directors whose films one can’t connect with, or at least are too hard-hearted that there isn’t space for emotional attachment and reaction. For me, that is what has unfortunately happened with the filmography of one of the most acclaimed directors of today’s age, Martin McDonagh. I don’t know why that happens because I have my caveats with each feature of his – the annoying nature of Seven Psychopaths, the crass sentimentality of In Bruges, or the overall shallowness of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The only project he has made that I managed to enjoy was his Oscar-winning short, Six Shooter. That is where I think he handles the genre combinations of dark comedy, drama, and thriller quite well instead of putting them into a trash compactor. Nonetheless, I still anticipate his projects; knowing one of them will win me over one day or another. Five years have passed since his last feature, and now McDonagh is back with The Banshees of Inisherin, which marks an In Bruges reunion of its lead actors, Colin Farrell (who won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival for this film) and Brendan Gleeson.
The Banshees of Inisherin is set on a remote island off the coast of Ireland, where the cannons from the ongoing Irish Civil War are heard loud and clear – causing the townsfolk to react in sheer distress occasionally. Still, they continue with their day as if nothing is happening. This is due to the fact that they are far away from all of the commotion; they’d rather spend their time either drinking pints at the local bar, Jonjo’s (the only location serving alcohol, which serves as a meeting for all sorts of scenarios), or working. There isn’t much to do or explore. On the island, there are two men whose friendship is about to take a weird and darker turn. Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) is completely devastated when his lifelong friend, Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson), short for Colm Sonny Larry, has suddenly decided to terminate their camaraderie and cut ties completely. What’s the reason for the on-the-spot decision to deride separately? That’s the mystery that slowly unravels during McDonagh’s latest.
“But you liked me yesterday”, remarks the baffled Pádraic. With the help of his loving sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon) and the Island’s buffoon, Dominic (Barry Keoghan), the lonely Pádraic tries to repair the damage to their bond by any means necessary. However, Colm is willing to take drastic measures to keep him out of his sight. McDonagh’s latest has the usual blend of the bizarre and melancholic amidst a jet-black comedy narrative, but this time the latter is heightened rather than the former, in which he usually dwells more. It is spiked with misanthropy and a significant amount of bleak dread to elevate the film’s themes of pride, loneliness, depression, friendship, and existential angst that blurs our minds from time to time (mostly putting your “immortality” stamp onto a world that in a few years will forget you). The film is a parable of pride, where it will go before the man falls to their respective damnations – with predestination and dismay attached to its juncture.
“Don’t you ever get lonely?”, Siobhán says to Pádraic when he turns to isolation once Colm rejects him. And, like all the men on the island would do (except for Colm), he declines to answer the question; it’s like a sign of weakness amongst an island where anybody knows its in and outs – everything about everyone. However, that question is more so her reflecting on the possibility of living on the mainland. While she spends her days reading and doing daily chores in the house, Pádraic is up and out drinking pints. When the person he spends most of his time with erases him out of his life (now sensing the same feelings as his sister), he doesn’t know how to express it. On paper, it all sounds quite fascinating; McDonagh seemed to be taking a different storytelling path while attaching his usual darkly comedic forte.
The Banshees of Inisherin feels like a project fit for our times because we spent so much time drenched in our own isolation that it helps us relate to these characters. Of course, the backdrop of that time doesn’t compare to the one in the film, as the pandemic and the Civil War aren’t equal. Yet, there was a sensation that a gloomy cloud of damnation was covering the world in its entirety, which is what the characters in the film might feel when looking at the horizon. Then there’s the other side to the Civil War analogy, in which Colm and Pádraic are the two slides fighting each other. Brother versus brother, friend versus friend, is a tale long heard before, but with McDonagh’s usual darkly comedic touch. Their “feud” has caused the island to turn into a sort of disarray (such as the Civil War on the mainland), as nobody knows exactly why they are fighting or who to side with. However, even when all this is quite mesmerizing, something is holding the movie back.
My problems with the film arrive from the monotonous structure of its themes’ development, the configuration of its jokes (and the respective setups), and being stretched far too long. There’s a lot of repetition in The Banshees of Inisherin, both in its quips and narrative plotlines, which tended to get under my skin as I got intrigued for one second, and the next, I was out of the experience. It has McDonagh’s usual writing style, but the script lacks the necessary violent verve in its punchlines, which we have seen of him in projects like In Bruges. Its first act is its funniest and most fruitful, but as it transpires through its elongated runtime, the film’s effectiveness wears out quickly. I often thought about how this would have been better if it had focused more on conveying how Colm is aware of the effects caused by his drastic actions. Sure, we see the other side of the coin from Pádraic’s perspective, but it doesn’t indulge enough into Colm’s perspective of this whole wistful and disdainful feud. The sinking of the soul is quite a journey, but not exploring the effect that it brings on the people near you feels like it missed the mark.
For a film that is centered around dark themes and topics, it isn’t reflected in the audience. Those melancholic emotions weren’t passing through my body and heartstrings as I watched, which says something about The Banshees of Inisherin’s emotional detachment from the audience. While I remain distant from McDonagh’s approach, I was entranced by the performances more than the script. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are a well-cut and sharp duo that know how to balance off each other. And even though the two leading men were excellent in their interpretations, the ones I loved the most were its supporting cast, specifically Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan. They added an element of lightness and heart to the dark cloud brimming over Inisherin. Condon’s tenderness and Keoghan’s dim-witted charisma were the glue that held the latter half, even if they don’t appear for much of it. Their appearances always brought the best out of the script; I wanted to see more of them. The Banshees of Inisherin left me quite disappointed, as I hoped for an experience that made me reflect upon my own “stamp of immortality” or the light fractures in the bonds I have had during my life. It isn’t the best of McDonagh, but certainly not the worst.