Director: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Colin Farrell, Barry Keoghan, Kerry Condon
Runtime: 1 hr 54 mins
Rating: M18 (Nudity)
Released By: Walt Disney
Opening Day: 26 January 2023
Synopsis: Set on a remote island off the west coast of Ireland, THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN follows lifelong friends Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson), who find themselves at an impasse when Colm unexpectedly puts an end to their friendship. A stunned Pádraic, aided by his sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon) and troubled young islander Dominic (Barry Keoghan), endeavours to repair the relationship, refusing to take no for an answer. But Pádraic’s repeated efforts only strengthen his former friend’s resolve and when Colm delivers a desperate ultimatum, events swiftly escalate, with shocking consequences.
Writer-director Martin McDonagh’s ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ was one of the best films of 2017, and we loved it for its mix of playful dark humour with a dash of grotesque violence. So it is with palpable anticipation that we awaited his follow-up, not least because it reunites the British-Irish filmmaker with his leading men from ‘In Bruges’. Alas, this tragi-comedy of friendship gone awry set in the 1920s on a fictional Irish isle of Inisherin somehow feels too slight, dull and under-developed, notwithstanding the solid pairing of Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, and will leave you wondering just what the point of it all really was.
At the core of this fable is the falling out between two longtime best friends – the younger of the two is a sociable cow herder named Pádraic Súilleabháin (Farrell), a sweet and simple guy who lives with his smart and sensible sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon); the older of them is a melancholy fiddler named Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson), now in his 60s and fretting over the smallness of his existence. It is this resentment which presumably causes Colm forgo their daily routine at the village pub out of the blue, declaring to Pádraic when quizzed: “You didn’t do anything. I just don’t like you no more.”
So begins a chain of events largely seen from Pádraic’s point of view, not quite so different from the stages of grief – namely, denial, anger, bargaining and acceptance. As Pádraic cycles through these series of emotions, we also see the impact of it ripple through the small community they inhabit. Except for the occasional subplot involving the village delinquent Dominic (Barry Keoghan) and his brute dad Gary (Gary Lydon), this is pretty much a two-hander between Pádraic and Colm, and therefore falling on Farrell and Gleeson to anchor their respective characters.
Anyone expecting some sort of shocking revelation why Colm had decided to ignore his best friend will be sorely disappointed; indeed, there is no such basis here, except for the fact that he simply wants to be left in peace to play his fiddle for the remaining 12 years he is convinced that he has to live. It isn’t just the suddenness that proves perplexing; even more so is Colm’s vow to cut off one of his own fingers every time Pádraic tries to speak to him. For Colm to do so just because he’s grown tired of his best friend sounds extreme to say the least.
To be fair, there are incidental pleasures to be had – the scenery is breathtaking, courtesy of Galway Bay’s rolling green hills and ravishing ocean views; the occasional but judicious use of a mysterious old lady called Mrs McCormick (Sheila Fitton) adds nicely to the quasi-magical fairytale; and the contrast between Pádraic and Siobhán is an excellent touch, especially as the latter proves herself to be a bright young woman deserving of much less provincial life that she longs for. And yet, these joys are not quite enough to compensate for the emptiness of the relationship between Pádraic and Colm, not when it is ultimately the crux of the entire movie.
So despite the anticipation and the hype given its accolades so far, we suspect ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ will turn out hollow and pointless for many. There is simply not enough here to justify a whole film, with Colm less a character than a caricature, hardly believable or compelling in any way. It is still engaging and watchable all right, but coming after the much superior ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’, McDonagh’s latest is nothing more than a piece of fiction about an abruptly interrupted friendship set against a beautiful, isolated place..
(Too slight, dull and under-developed, Martin McDonagh's latest is a tragi-comedy that lacks depth, meaning or purpose)
Review by Gabriel Chong