“The Banshees of Inisherin” was written & directed by Martin McDonagh, the director of “In Bruges” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Taking place on a small island off the coast of Ireland in 1923, the film follows the dimwitted and kindhearted Pádraic (Colin Farrell) when his longtime friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson) abruptly terminates their relationship. What starts as a sharp and witty comedy evolves into a heartbreaking study of loneliness, existentialism, and the need for purpose in life.
McDonagh is a master at balancing tone. He’ll have the audience belly-laughing in one scene and make them rethink their life choices in the next. Somehow every single joke in this film lands. Each one is meticulously written, performed, and edited. It’s refreshing to see a film that actually puts effort into its humor during this era dominated by generic comic book films. “The Banshees of Inisherin” doesn’t try to appease the lowest common denominator with some out of place and annoyingly safe quips. The jokes feel natural in the story, serving the narrative by calling out how over-the-top some of the situations are while also adding much-needed levity during some dark moments.
But make no mistake: “The Banshees of Inisherin” is not a film that you’ll leave with nothing but a smile. It thrives in its thematic richness with its undeniably universal messages that draw emotions from anyone who experiences it. Characters endure heavy loss, force each other to become worse people, and debate their reasons for existence on this isolated rock.
Brendan Gleeson is phenomenal as Colm, a man who simply wants to live life with meaning but becomes a monster in the process. He aims to accomplish his dreams in his fleeting years after decades of meaningless existence. He becomes terrified of death, tired of ignoring it just to learn what’s in the feces of Pádraic’s donkey. Colm is an incredibly tragic character, and while you want to like him because of how relatable he is, you can’t help but be intimidated by how far he’ll go to isolate someone as nice as Pádraic.
Speaking of Pádraic, this character is one of the best of the decade, He’s undoubtedly a simpleton, living his life carefree with blissful ignorance and not realizing how immature it is to talk about donkey excrement, but that’s why he’s so lovable (and hysterical). Pádraic is just a nice guy trying to balance his relationships and stay happy. So when his life crumbles down as he slowly becomes a nastier person to cope with Colm’s actions, it’s incredibly heartbreaking.
This is Colin Farrell’s best performance. Period. In fact, I think it’s the best performance of the year thus far. Farrell is charismatic as can be here, lighting up the screen with a smile and blackening it with a simple gaze. He plays Pádraic beautifully, not overacting to express the character’s goofiness and turmoil, but rather trusting the audience to understand his thought process. It’s a wonderfully understated performance with most of the emotion being expressed through his eyes rather than his words. You don’t see Colin Farrell, just Pádraic: this endearing man who deteriorates into the kind of person he despises.
The supporting cast is outstanding as well. Kerry Condon as Pádraic’s sister Siobhan brings a great fire to her character. She’s just as funny as the rest of the cast while also having this wise intelligence and strong moral compass. In many ways she’s the antithesis of Colm; while she also yearns to escape her meaningless existence on Inisherin, she rarely endangers others to do so. Additionally, Barry Keoghan is a scene-stealer as Dominic, commonly dubbed the dumbest person on Inisherin. He’s sort of Pádraic’s sidekick despite Pádraic and everyone else despising him due to his tendency to consistently say or do the wrong thing at the wrong time. He’s basically Newman from “Seinfeld.” Who doesn’t enjoy Newman?
I also love the setting of the film. Inisherin is such a peaceful and breathtaking environment straight out of a computer lockscreen. The routines, lifestyles, and conversations of the wide array of quirky side characters are consistently entertaining as well. World-building is integral to immersing an audience, and “The Banshees of Inisherin” excels at it.
If I had to scour for negatives, I’d say the film runs on just a bit too long. There’s multiple points where you think the film is about to end, and then it’ll continue for another few minutes. Those few minutes are still great, but to get there you have to drive over a speed bump.
“The Banshees of Inisherin” has stuck with me ever since I left the theater. Using an extremely simple premise, Martin McDonagh crafted a deeply impactful and thought-provoking film full of themes and memorable characters. Unfortunately, the film has a limited release, so if you have a theater nearby that’s playing it, support the movie. It’s awesome. You’ll love it.