'It Does Look Like We're Rowin'...': The Banshees of Inisherin (McDonagh, 2022) Review
There is nothing like the melodic wilt of the Irish brogue. Nor is there anything quite like the razor sharp witticisms of a Martin McDonagh script. And there he squishes it all together, procuring the finest talent in all the Emerald Isle, helmed by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson brought back together again after McDonagh’s brilliant black comedy In Bruges, and a precious donkey for the final touch. Would I be so bold to proclaim that The Banshees of Inisherin is my favourite film of this year? (Drive My Car was last year, lads, don’t jump on that one.)
Yes, yes, awards season has only just begun; technically I’ve seen two ‘contender’s’ as such, so far and we have more to come with a great deal of interesting films– Charlotte Wells’ Aftersun looks fascinating as does Ruben Östlund’s latest, Triangle of Sadness. However, my Irish blood yearns for cracking, wistful cinema and I didn’t get that with Kenneth Branagh this year.
The trailer had to be the most exciting thing to drop in the last few months, film-wise. Enough to intrigue, not enough to spoil I couldn’t wait to book in. Two old friends, Pádraic (Farrell) and Colm (Gleeson), living on the fictional island Inisherin in early twentieth century Ireland, do the same routine every day; meet at the same pub, at the same time, order the same drinks and talk about the same things. Until Colm decides he doesn’t want to be friends any more.
McDonagh’s latest film was sold perfectly and concisely, unlike this review. It’s a beautiful film, visually speaking, capturing the stunning charm of Ireland and its neighbouring isles, it feels utterly faithful. Interweaving the conflict of the Irish civil war with elements of folklore, a funny, often moving story unfolds as a hard-hitting breakup.
Beyond that, it’s rather philosophical, laced with despair. Brought on by Inisherin itself, the war, the time period or something far more urgently human, McDonagh’s film becomes spiritual as the characters battle with legacy and mortality… and why they don’t want to be friends. There was little to prepare me for the turns the story took, the depths it mined nor the rawness that stung a little too close to the bone with its observations. The inclusion of the political is so subtle; it adds context and a deep melancholy to the story without being the story. The mysticism, simply the element of the unknown, as with all things in this world; nothing is quite as mysterious as the human heart.
‘I just don’t like you no more’ Colm says. Pádraic wants to know why. So do we all, he’s perfectly nice, though ‘niceness doesn’t last’ if a little boring and loves his animals. It shouldn’t be so funny and familiar all in one his journey for the truth; like children on a playground, both admirably frank and harrowingly vague, Colm’s decision fed into the worst kind of anxiety in me that adulthood has brought. How does one really hear what they don’t want to? The persistence is familiar and yet honourable in its own, ridiculous way. Farrell is a finer actor than he is ever given credit for, harnessing the vulnerability and naivety of Pádraic as he attempts to reconcile with anything he could have done. He can bear tragedy in his performance and childishness; his decisions and regrets wrought with periods of self-implemented misery. Farrell just knows how to sulk really well.
Gleeson, and his fiddle-playing incorporated into the narrative perfectly, were as powerful as ever. He lumbers through scenes unsettlingly stoic, often gentle, even as he is cutthroat with his decision. The more refined of the two, he in many ways makes for an odd pairing with Farrell. Yet once again they are able to capture the magic from their previous collaboration, honed by years of experiences. Where in In Bruges, it felt like an elder and his protégé, here they are equals both on and off-screen. In him we find the powerful existentialism laced throughout. What do we do with the remaining time left to us? Can we be selfish in our final years? As Colm says himself; ‘I do worry sometimes I might just be entertaining myself while staving off the inevitable.’
McDonagh’s cast overall is lucratively brilliant. Barry Keoghan as the islands soft-hearted ‘fool’, for one! Sharp decisions in casting brought his fascinating characters to life. Their personalities and rhythms authentically captured amongst the absurdity. Although what I know of the Irish, they really are this stubborn. My favourite choice – other than the donkey - has to be Kerry Condon, however, as Pádraic’s wise yet tolerant sister Siobhan. Her voice of reason challenged by the restrictive nature of the isle is a heart-aching conflict to the already troubling shift between the two old friends. She is the anchor for Pádraic, the connection between the two men. Condon balances this in the best way.
Most striking of all, The Banshees of Inisherin is beautifully mature. Even with its premise rooted in childlike folly. The unfolding beats and conclusion of In Bruges, which lends itself to comparison here though I am sorry I keep bringing it up, are always violent and intense; the story is about two hitmen laying low in Belgium. Whereas Banshees is the break-up film. Stakes are raised; violence falls heavily and packs a heftier punch. It’s as unsettling as the fighting on the mainland that rumbles in the distance, it’s a disturbance of peace for no reason anyone can really give. When we reach the end of the swift two hours runtime, we are exhausted and cautious, something sits heavy with us. But it lands with great power. It packs a heftier punch. It makes for unforgettable cinema.
Maybe it is too early to chatting about best films of the year, maybe I can say what I want? The danger lies in my words, however. Banshees has been hyped. I can see it receiving similar backlash from those listening to the hype. What I’m doing now is fuelling hype. Hype is a dangerous thing; it hurt Hereditary and more in the last few years. Some will accuse this of being high-brow; I’ve found the comments online already saying it was dull and slow, that they got up and walked out. But I loved the film, struggle to see those flaws in which some are getting rather loud about – mostly due to critical acclaim – despite this being one of the most accessible films on the awards rota. So how can I not be wrought with it, this hype?
McDonagh has grown so much since In Bruges and so have Gleeson and Farrell, who have honed their craft. I’m gonna say it; I think The Banshees of Inisherin is better… don’t throw those rocks at be, sir! I don’t throw those statements around often, nor do I even say it lightly. I was utterly enthralled by the feud between Pádraic and Colm, wondering and hoping and effortlessly forlorn by the tale. It was perfect storytelling. I laughed, and cooed (at the donkey, duh) and fell frantically into this bleak world McDonagh crafted, somehow also a paradise and cage to its characters. ‘How's the despair?’ the priest asks Colm. Well, that is a good question, isn’t it?