Credit Searchlight Pictures

Review: The Banshees of Inisherin

By Haris Votsis

Martin McDonagh returns with another brilliantly-executed film, featuring his incomparable duo of Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson.

The pair first showcased their dazzling chemistry in McDonagh’s modern classic In Bruges, and are back once more in what might be one of the best films of the year. The two leading men instigate a unique combination of unsettling misery and uncontrollable laughter, facing off in a hypnotic duel of compassion, rejection, frustration and unrelenting emotion. 

The basic premise of the film, set in 1923 on a small island off the coast of Ireland, is that Colm (Gleeson) decides one day that he no longer wants to be friends with Pádraic (Farrell). The decline of this male friendship instigates a chain of events which moves the plot forward, building an underlying tension that is guaranteed to keep the audience on edge. Furthermore, the Irish Civil War lingers in the background, with the characters making frequent references to the conflict.

The brilliant exchange of dialogue between the two characters is often reminiscent of McDonagh’s In Bruges. However, Banshees demonstrates a more mature approach, with McDonagh not seeking to create a fast-paced exhibition of snappy dialogue, but rather a more naturalistic portrayal of human relationships and interactions. This film indeed feels more personal, and is characterised by a profound intimacy which was not as present in In Bruges. This intimacy even extends to the film’s backdrop, which perhaps represents an elegy to the fragmentation of Irish national identity, or an allegory for the Irish Civil War.

The writing consistently manages to find the perfect balance between pitch-black comedy and emotion-ridden tragedy. Despite administering perpetual laughter, McDonagh retains the gravity and seriousness of his film without allowing the audience to drift away and disengage from the naturalism of the characters. A key reason for this is the attention to detail, and is a masterclass in navigating depth of character. McDonagh has successfully moulded an ensemble of multi-dimensional characters by focusing on complexity, including lovable traits as well as flaws.  

Another reason this tragicomic balance is successful is due to the tour-de-force performances. Colin Farrell plays Pádraic with intense emotion, crafting a delicate lovability and confused sadness which is as effective in evoking sympathy as its comedic timing. Pádraic greatly contrasts Brendan Gleeson’s solemn and quietly morose character, Colm, whose melancholic disposition echoes other roles previously played by the actor such as Ken from In Bruges. The cast also features Barry Keoghan, who had previously stunned audiences with his calmly deranged performance in The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Keoghan pulls another mesmerising and intricately energetic performance here as a troubled youth. Last but not least, an amazing performance is delivered by Kerry Condon who plays Pádraic’s sister. Condon steals the show in several of the scenes she’s in, delivering cleverly-written dialogue in a charmingly hilarious semi-ironic manner, and exemplifying her capacity to show serious intensity within brief emotional outbursts. Despite being the only voice of reason in this theatre of madness, Condon’s character is never predictable or boring, which only further highlights her talent. 

In terms of visuals, the film feels like a breath of fresh air (literally). A predominant portion of the film takes place in open spaces, as the filming emphasises the beautiful green pastures and a mystifying range of clouds hovering within the frame. The set design largely evokes the feeling of life in the early 1920s, with set pieces exuding a remarkable authenticity which only reasserts McDonagh’s attention to detail. Moreover, some sequences evoke an almost otherworldly beauty, reinforced by the folkloric myth of the Banshee roaming the Irish village at night-time. The clouds mixing with the gorgeous hills, as well as the soft lighting during night-time shots, are only two of the many elements which elevate the film’s dreamlike quality and imply an almost supernatural dimension. 

One of the strongest qualities of the film is its pacing. Although the interactions are realistic and abstain from the violent action-packed bursts of In Bruges, McDonagh somehow maintains a crescendo throughout the film, achieving a hypnotic effect which simultaneously captivates and unsettles the audience who become entranced by the gorgeous atmosphere created. With the exception of a few scenes which feel like they drag on a little too much, McDonagh consistently keeps the audience in the film’s grasp until the brilliant conclusion. 

Overall, this is an expertly-crafted film with a gorgeous atmosphere and unsettling ethereal undertones, featuring amazing performances all around and a screenplay which will likely sweep several awards.



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