The best friend of a farmer gets dumped in “The Banshees of Inisherin.”
Expand this picture Searchlight Pictures/Jonathan Hession
switch to caption Searchlight Pictures/Jonathan Hession Searchlight Pictures/Jonathan Hession It has taken some time for some people to understand what a terrific actor Colin Farrell is because we as a culture have a tendency to confuse attractiveness for shallowness. He has always had a magnetic presence on screen, but in recent years, as a leading man in films like The Lobster and this year’s After Yang, he has displayed startlingly new emotional depths. In The Batman, he demonstrated his willingness to play the wicked Penguin, who hides his attractive looks beneath a mountain of prosthetics.
The Banshees of Inisherin has Farrell in what might be his best performance to date, in part because he is portraying a character who, like Farrell himself, is likely accustomed to being overlooked. His protagonist, Pádraic, is a sweet-souled farmer who has lived all of his life on the fictitious island of Inisherin off the coast of Ireland.
When Colm, Pádraic’s elder best friend, declines to join him for their customary afternoon pint at the local bar, it causes a minor shock because life here in 1923 is routine and easy. He soon finds out that Brendan Gleeson’s character, Colm, has decided to sever their decades-long friendship without providing any explanation.
Over time, it becomes clear that Colm finds Pádraic boring and is sick of listening to his constant babbling, especially since it prevents Colm from pursuing his passion for violin playing and composition.
Colm still likes Pádraic, but he also realizes that their friendship is wearing on him. Gleeson excels at revealing the sensitivity hidden beneath his outward stoicism. However, Pádraic feels unable to accept Colm’s choice. His old acquaintance is badgered, then pleaded with, then cajoled by him.
Colm eventually loses his cool to the point where he threatens to hurt himself if Pádraic doesn’t leave him alone. You may be sure that it isn’t an idle threat because this film was written and filmed by British-Irish playwright and director Martin McDonagh, who enjoys baroque comic violence.
This film isn’t as gory as some of McDonagh’s previous stage and screen productions, though I still remember enjoying his gory play The Lieutenant of Inishmore and having less-than-favorable feelings for his Oscar-winning movie Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The Banshees of Inisherin is a softer, gentler work compared to that film’s wildly unbalanced blend of comedy and tragedy, but its melancholy nevertheless cuts much deeper. McDonagh begins the narrative with stunning shots of Inisherin, complete with lush green surroundings and even a rainbow in the sky. By the time he’s finished, though, he’s destroyed whatever romantic or emotional feelings we could have for this remote town, where residents might be petty and narrow-minded and make fun of those who wish to leave or strive for something better.
Few people are as knowledgeable about this as Siobhan, played superbly by Kerry Condon, and the erudite sister of Pádraic. All of her brother’s shortcomings aside, she adores him. She is also one of the few individuals in the community who can cognitively relate to Colm, and she is aware of his need for privacy.
CULTURE There are many other interesting supporting characters, like a shady police officer, an elderly woman who predicts disaster, and an obnoxious young man who is played with wonderful pathos by Barry Keoghan. The animal cast is also not even specified yet: Colm’s pet collie and Pádraic’s pet donkey, two wonderful animals that put the pettiness and foolishness of humans to shame, are two of the most significant characters in the film.
That concept and the way the Irish Civil War, which is happening in the background of the novel, is used as a counterpoint to the tension between Pádraic and Colm in The Banshees of Inisherin both strike me as a little facile. However, the writing of these two characters is anything from glib. Understanding what transpires when an immovable object is struck by an unstoppable force can help you better comprehend how Farrell and Gleeson fight it out onscreen. It has been a while since a film wrung as much drama from the dissolution of a lovely friendship.