Metro Weekly

‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ Review: Friendly Fire

A sudden unfriending ignites a civil war between old buddies in the sublime "The Banshees of Inisherin."

The Banshees of Inisherin: Colin Farrell -- Photo: Jonathan Hession. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures
The Banshees of Inisherin: Colin Farrell — Photo: Jonathan Hession. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

It’s another stunning day on the isle of Inisherin, a quaint, emerald dot in the North Atlantic just off the west coast of Ireland, and genial farmer Pádraic (Colin Farrell) sets off as usual to gather his mate Colm (Brendan Gleeson) for a pint or more down at the village pub.

But on this day, Colm doesn’t answer when Pádraic knocks on his door. Nor does he speak to his old friend, except, finally, to say that he no longer wishes for them to be friends.

“Everything was fine yesterday,” reads the tagline on the poster of Martin McDonagh’s note-perfect comedy The Banshees of Inisherin (★★★★★), but seemingly overnight, something changed between friends.

From Colm’s sudden change of heart, the film proceeds on a wickedly funny, and often surprisingly direct, trajectory towards the complete obliteration of a best-friendship.

First, though, Pádraic, who’s understandably shocked and hurt, needs to know what happened, so he starts asking questions. McDonagh, who both wrote and directed the film, makes a sturdy running gag of every other villager’s reaction when they hear the news of the great unfriending. “Have you been rowin’? You must have been rowin’.”

Pádraic has to wonder, but he doesn’t think they’ve been rowin’. Did he say something to offend Colm? No, says Colm. Did he do something to offend? No, says Colm. Well then, what? “I just don’t like you no more.”

The Banshees of Inisherin: Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell -- Photo: Jonathan Hession. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures
The Banshees of Inisherin: Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell — Photo: Jonathan Hession. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

The folks in this village deal in blunt truths, just one way that McDonagh captures the idiosyncratic spirit of life in a remote, rural, one-pub town in 1923.

It’s also captured in the island’s gorgeous, windswept vistas and in the amber glow of candlelight by cinematographer Ben Davis, who also shot McDonagh’s Oscar-winning Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. (They primarily shot fictional Inisherin on Ireland’s picturesque Inishmore island.)

The residents of Inisherin are isolated, with plenty of space on the island to roam freely, but still stuck with each other for years on end. So they speak their minds. Even the parish priest (David Pearse) might tell you to ‘Feck off’ if you test his patience.

Pádraic tests everyone’s patience, especially Colm’s, by refusing to leave Colm alone. Even after Colm threatens to do himself bodily harm if Pádraic continues talking to him, Pádraic just can’t let it go.

Farrell, his brow furrowed and eyes pleading, ensures that Pádraic’s persistence is both a charming quality, and definitely part of the problem. He’s like a wounded puppy that, no matter how forcefully he’s scolded, can’t ever understand why you wouldn’t want to play.

The Banshees of Inisherin: Colin Farrell — Photo: Jonathan Hession. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

Colm has his reasons, or one specific reason that comes out in another burst of blunt truth-telling. Yet, in Gleeson’s poignantly restrained performance, there’s a hint of deeper despair, mentioned once or twice by the priest, but never fully illuminated. Some truths, perhaps, are too tough for even this tough guy to face.

The movie says a lot about the stubbornness and pride of men by showing how Colm and Pádraic’s falling-out, prompted by no particular event, escalates into a bitter, bloody dispute where at least one life is lost.

Before it gets that far, Pádraic’s sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon, in an endearingly tart turn), tries her damndest to steer her brother towards the off-ramp, but to no avail. Pádraic’s friend Dominic (Barry Keoghan) — troubled by his own turbulent life at home with abusive cop dad Peadar (Gary Lydon) — also urges Pádraic towards peace.

Even Colm’s cute little dog tries to intervene to halt the rising tide of madness, but there’s only so much a dog can do.

On the mainland, the Irish Civil War rages, with smoke and cannon fire visible from the island, while on Inisherin, Colm and Pádraic’s uncivil war careens past a point of no return.

As one islander jokes, it used to be that they could count on conflict being fought between the Irish and the English. Now, on the mainland and on their island, it’s Irishman against Irishman, brother against brother. From such internecine violence, no one rises stronger, just bloodied and brotherless.

The Banshees of Inisherin is playing at select theaters, including Landmark’s E Street and Bethesda Row Cinemas. Visit www.landmarktheatres.com or www.fandango.com.

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