How does a long-standing feud begin? Is it some big gesture or something tiny and potentially unseen by the non-aggrieved party? All answers are possible, but in The Banshees of Inisherin, Martin McDonagh wants you to consider those options, as well as entirely other ones as well. While it might sound like something fairly complex and heady, in some ways this is McDonagh’s quietest and simplest film. While never skimping on the laughs, he’s also crafted arguably his darkest movie yet. It’s a definite tightrope walk, one he pulls off with aplomb. As such, it was no surprise to find that the flick played extremely well at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. It’s a work that lingers with you once the credits roll.
The Banshees of Inisherin is subtle, sometimes to the point where a more passive viewer could feel like they missed something. That’s part of the point, though, and an intentional choice by McDonagh. If In Bruges is his most complete film, with Seven Psychopaths his flashiest, while Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri his broadest, then this one is his most mature.
Set in Ireland on a small island off of the west coast of the country, we meet Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) on his way to meet lifelong friend Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) for a pint. It’s clearly been their daily routine for years, but today is different. Today, Colm doesn’t answer the door, and when confronted at the pub, suddenly and unexpectedly puts an end to the friendship. Pádraic is stunned, figuring it must have been something he said or did. Colm is adamant that it’s not, but that he’s done being friends with him, permanently.
Convinced that this is just temporary, Pádraic seeks to fix the relationship, utilizing his strong-willed sister Siobhan Súilleabháin (Kerry Condon), as well as a troubled young islander in Dominic Kearney (Barry Keoghan), to help. In refusing to take no for an answer, he’s only making it worse, as Colm warns him. Eventually, he makes an ultimatum: every time that he’s bothered by him again, he’ll cut off one of his fingers. Pádraic thinks Colm is bluffing, but when it becomes clear that he isn’t, things only escalate further from there.
Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are at the tops of their respective games, clearly enjoying their time with McDonagh. It may be a feel bad movie, but they’re both relishing the juicy roles. Farrell is thrilled to be playing a goodhearted dolt, while Gleeson has made quiet sadness his calling card. Both are at their best. Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan deliver the sort of essential supporting roles that the Academy too often ignores, but they certainly shouldn’t. These four have the main roles, but there are small parts for Gary Lydon and Pat Shortt as well.
Filmmaker Martin McDonagh is at his least showy with The Banshees of Inisherin, but it’s in service of his most considered screenplay. The simple direction and lack of a “big” moment put the focus on the characters, which the script makes incredibly compelling. Everyone has personality here in spades, without it ever feeling quirky. McDonagh has a lot on his mind here, with no easy answers, either. That being said, for a movie that’s basically one big metaphor, it never feels like you’re being preached to, in the slightest.
The Banshees of Inisherin is a bit more subtle than you might be expecting, but it does pack a punch. Toronto was a very kind home to this one, after a strong premiere at the Venice Film Festival. Will success at TIFF translate to Oscar attention? It’s still early, but Farrell, Gleeson, and McDonagh may be hard for the Academy to resist this time…