Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 22, 2023)
When we last saw him behind the camera, Martin McDonagh directed 2017’s much-praised Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. 2022 brought McDonagh back with another character drama via The Banshees of Inisherin.
Set in 1923, we go to the small island of Inisherin off the Irish coast. Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) and Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) have enjoyed a longtime friendship.
However, this changes when Colm suddenly disconnects the relationship. Stunned by this abrupt turn of events, Pádraic desperately attempts to regain the friendship, but Colm proves difficult to persuade.
To say I relate to Pádraic would offer an understatement. About 10 years ago, my lifelong best friend ceased communication with me for reasons that remain unknown to me despite my multiple attempts to figure out what happened.
A few years back, this friend reappeared, apologized and indicated an interest in a renewed relationship. He then promptly went AWOL again.
Throw in the fact that an actor named Colin plays Pádraic and I find myself in a space where I figure I should connect to Banshees. And I do to a limited degree, though Pádraic’s situation becomes less of a mystery than mine.
As I went into Banshees, I thought much of the plot would revolve around suspense related to Colm’s change of heart. Instead, he reveals fairly early in the movie the reason he discontinues his friendship.
Due to potential spoilers, I won’t reveal what prompts Colm to make this major change. However, don’t expect anything revelatory, as the story finds a surprisingly “small” reason the friendship concludes.
I appreciate this, as it allows the story to avoid sweeping melodrama. Banshees tends to keep matters low-key, even as the feud between Pádraic and Colm escalates.
This allows the movie a greater sense of realism – well, as much realism as we can expect from a tale in which a man cuts off his own fingers to make a point. Banshees does stretch credulity at times in the way it paints the feud.
It also comes with some character subplots that tend to distract from the main narrative. Most of the elements connected to Pádraic’s sister Siobhán (Kerry Donlan) feel gratuitous, and her ultimate path doesn’t feel terribly logical in the greater scheme of things.
We also find another domain that involves local weirdo Dominic (Barry Keoghan), a horny young man with designs on Siobhán. As with her tale, we could lose Dominic and the movie would work fine.
Banshees fares best when it concentrates on Colm and Pádraic, as their strange conflict fuels the film. I could live without the semi-groan-inducing parallels with the Irish Civil War, but the battle between the former friends helps keep the story in motion.
As noted, I empathize with Pádraic, but I can also see why Colm tires of his former friend’s company. The movie paints Pádraic as pleasant but vapid, and it doesn’t feel like a stretch to believe that Colm would just find himself bored after decades of inane chatter.
Colm comes across as the less likable of the pair, but Banshees doesn’t turn him into a pure villain. While he can seem cruel toward Pádraic, he shows compassion as well, and the movie hints at some mental health-related issues that make his actions more understandable.
Both Farrell and Gleeson do well in their roles. Both bring out the wry comedy but don’t turn their characters into silly stereotypes or one-dimensional goofs.
Banshees probably runs too long, as this feels like a short story more than a nearly two-hour film. Nonetheless, it does more right than wrong and becomes a generally involving effort.