In 2008, the cinematic world was introduced to Martin McDonagh, an already established Irish playwright, through his feature film debut, In Bruges, the darkly hilarious tale of two hitmen who have to lie low in… well, Bruges, after a hit goes awfully awry.
A festival hit and awards season darling, In Bruges saw the teaming of Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell as the fast-talking, occasionally-dopey and foul-mouthed beyond belief assassins and solidified themselves in film history as one of the greatest on-screen duos of all time. I still go back and watch clips from the film showcasing the Irish colloquialism filled banter between the two.
Moving forward almost 15 years later, and after a string of successes, including the Academy Award winning Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, McDonagh has reunited with Farrell and Gleeson for another Irish laden story, The Banshees of Inisherin.
Set in 1923, amidst the Irish civil war, a coastal island off the shore of Ireland called Inisherin plays host to a small community of humble Irish folk. Padraic (Colin Farrell) is a simple man with a simple routine. He wakes up, walks his cows (and his miniature donkey), does his chores, and like clockwork, at 2pm every day, stops by his best friend, Colm’s (Brendan Gleeson) to head down to the pub together for a pint.
Until one day, when the clock strikes 2, and Colm sits in his house smoking, ignoring the callouts and door knocks coming from Padraic. Concerned there is a rift between the two that he isn’t aware of, Padraic consults the townspeople, including his sister and the pub’s bartender, both of which have no ideas as to why Colm would be ignoring his long-time drinking buddy.
Later that day, upon finding that Colm is now at the pub, enjoying himself without the company of Padraic, a confrontation occurs which reveals that Colm just simply doesn’t like Padraic anymore. Plain and simple. With the incessant desire to find out what he may have done wrong, and much to Colm’s annoyance, Padraic hounds and hassles to a boiling point that changes the course of their relationship towards darker territories.
Martin McDonagh is one of the best writers working in both theatre and film today (with two of his screenplays donning Oscar nominations), and his signature style of dark comedy is on full display with The Banshees of Inisherin. On the surface, this is a break-up movie, and the story follows the ramifications of someone coming to terms with the split and struggling to understand why. But, beneath that surface is a complex and interesting examination of self-discovery in your later years, the idea of how time must be spent with the lingering doom of mortality clouding above, and potentially the most important theme: how stoicism can be a barrier to overcoming sadness.
That’s not to say that this film is entirely sad, because it is easily one of the laugh-out-loud funniest movies of the year. The awkward interactions with nosy village folk (specifically Colm’s confessionals to the town priest ending an expletive filled rant from one of God’s soldiers on Earth), the repetitive back-and-forth conversations emphasising the hilarity in mundanity, and a good splash of slapstick style humour for good measure. There are laughs galore to be had in The Banshees of Inisherin, which isn’t at all off brand for McDonagh, and in that style, there is a darkness to the humour which makes it feel even more bity. Farrell hones in on his comedic sensibilities to almost be get a laugh with every dull-guy line that comes out of his mouth (however, his facial reaction to the ‘break-up’ almost won the crowd over for biggest laugh of the night), and it’s often Gleeson’s reaction to his innocent stupidity that keeps the laughs going without missing any dialogue or story developments. Seeing both Farrell and Gleeson on screen again was delightful, and their ability to play off each other while performing flawless dialogue makes for one of the most engaging cinematic experiences of 2022.
Another hilarious addition to the cast is, what you could ultimately call the village dunce, Barry Keoghan as Dominic. I don’t want to reveal much of his backstory, because as it plays out, there is a lot to dissect. However, Keoghan’s dedicated performance steals the show and leads to some of the film’s funniest moments, and some of the most shocking, upsetting and heartbreaking too. Kerry Condon, who plays Padraic’s sister, Siobhan, also has an emotionally driven character arc, and gives a stronghouse performance that is similarly full of laughs and heart, holding her own incredibly well against a flurry of powerhouse performances.
Right from the opening moments, the innocuous dullness of Padraic’s life initially comes across as sweet, even a little charming. But as more is revealed about his effect on Colm over the years, the self-discovery and identity crisis that ensues adds an incredible amount of substance to the characters and the story. This substance is enhanced by a brilliantly doey and endearing performance from Farrell. Out of himself and Gleeson, Farrell gets the majority of the dialogue, and he delivers it with such perfection that it feels like it could have only been crafted and meticulously rehearsed and worked on by the actor and the writer. Even in that meticulous nature, it never comes across as inauthentic, it comes across as perfect for the heightened film that it is. Even outside of the dialogue, Farrell’s physical reactions (mainly a scrawny, soured face reacting to sad news) showcases one of the best performances he has given during this current period of hits he is putting out into the world.
And at his perfect counter is Gleeson and a moody, brooding, yet entirely empathy drawing performance as a man who just wants to be left alone to finally do the things he feels he has been held back from for decades. It’s Gleeson’s performance and Colm’s carefully sporadic dialogue that makes the impact of his words bite even harder when he says them. The combination of scathing comments and a physically dominating presence is not just a highlight for an already outstanding career so far, but in both cases, should be in the conversation come awards season.
I’ve already gloated about what a writing phenomenon McDonagh is, however, as a director, The Banshees of Inisherin only highlights his rocketing trajectory as a filmmaker. There is a shot that lasts only a few seconds, that caps off a dialogue heavy scene that I took a lot of notice in. It’s little moments like this, that either flourish in wide shots of the beautiful Irish countryside scenery, or a simple exposition shot that says more than any dialogue could, that for me, shows how passion and meticulousness McDonagh also puts into the visual medium of filmmaking. Each shot, scene and location feels alive in frame, acting as characters without lines or movement. Inisherin as a town, as dull as it may be, fully immerses the audience right into the screen and into this world. This is a testament to how McDonagh hasn’t just transitioned his directing abilities from stage to screen, but how he has used his strengths from the former to improve the latter.
The Banshees of Inisherin is undoubtedly one of this year’s best movies. Seeing Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson reunite for another Martin McDonagh film is any film fans dream, but the fact that lightning has struck twice for this trio goes down just as good as a pint of Guinness at 2pm. The dark hilarity is on full display from the opening moments, and even though, in classic McDonagh fashion, the story takes it’s darker turns as it goes on, you will walk out of this movie smiling because of just how damn good it is!
The Banshees of Inisherin is currently playing at the Brisbane International Film Festival – head to www.biff.com.au to find session times and ticketing information. The film will officially open in Australian cinemas on Boxing Day, 2022.
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