Writer/Director Martin McDonough is back with The Banshees of Inisherin an early 20th-century Irish tale of friendship, silence, fiddle playing, and self-mutilation. It’s fer ya know… keds!
There’s a part of me that thinks both John Ford and Billy Wilder would be tickled silly by The Banshees of Inisherin. Ford and Wilder were both formalists and both had acidic wit about humanity that would have appreciated this dark wickedly funny tale. Writer/Director McDonough is not just armed with a great script plus not just one but two truly great performances.
In 1923, Ireland, there was a Civil War brewing between the Protestants and the Catholics. Off the coast of Ireland on the isle of Inisherin, another war of civility has begun. On the last day of March of that year, Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) decided he wants nothing more to do with his lifelong friend Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell). Doherty wants nothing more than silence and to work on his music. Pádraic cannot understand or fathom anything of the sort and quickly begins to ask everyone from his sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon) to bar owner Jonjo (Patt Short) to even local Simpleton/Son of Police Chief Dominic (Barry Keoghan) why? What Pádraic has begun with his inability to understand Colm’s action is a deep dive into the futile nature of fighting and the consequences to everyone.
McDonough’s film is one that strips the veneer off posturing and intelligence. Much like his debut feature In Bruges, The Banshees of Inisherin deal with men unable to communicate with one another because of intelligence. Though each is intricately tied to the other because their community dictates it. Everyone may not understand Colm’s decision, but they agree to it. All but Pádraic who is just too simple to understand. Pádraic even thinks it may be an April Fool’s joke. Even when Colm tells Pádraic he will take off one of his own fingers if Pádraic continues to attempt to communicate, the man is just simply flabbergasted and confused.
One could not ask for a better pairing than Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. Both do egoless work here. Many actors would want to wink or nod to the audience. That isn’t even a choice for both. Farrell appears to be freed and unchained to some of the best work of his career as Pádraic the simple but truly dim bulb of a soul. Gleeson’s work here is a bit trickier as Colm who is as dim as Pádraic but in a different way.
Not to be outdone by Farrell and Gleeson is Barry Keoghan as Dominic. The young actor is quickly proving why he’s worked with some of the best directors in the industry and continues to garner acclaim from his peers. Keoghan is heartbreaking as the abused son of the police chief who’s friends with Pádraic. A sort of moral compass that is well aware that Pádraic should leave well enough alone. What could have been easily a plot device, in Keoghan’s hands is a performance that steals the show from everyone. The final moments with Keoghan’s Dominic are some of the more haunting in recent memory.
Every below-the-line credit is superb. Cinematographer Ben Davis’ work is as accomplished as anything he’s done in the MCU maybe even more so. Editor Mikkel EG Nielsen’s work is artfully keyed into multiple performances but never feels either rushed or bogged down by plot or character. Composer Carter Burwell continues his beautiful collaboration with McDonough giving the score a very unexpected sound. Even Production Designer Mark Tildesley manages to take the cliché of Ireland and give us a unique vision we have not seen.
Part comedy of errors. Part tragic tale of male ego. The Banshees of Inisherin is the type of accomplished and adroit comedy-of-human-foley that will either be a delightful or dreadful experience. This reviewer for one found McDonough’s film hilarious and an utter delight. One that will be returned to often.