Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson being the 21st century’s counterpart to Laurel and Hardy is something I did not have on my lifetime cinematic bingo card, and I guarantee you did not either. Still, there’s that.
In both “The Banshees of Inisherin” and “In Bruges,” both written and directed by the frequently charmingly twisted Martin McDonagh, the Irish performers demonstrate chemistry and virtuoso interplay that calls to mind no one so much as the masters of the early 20th-century Comedy of Exasperation.
What Can We Expect From the Movie?
To be expected from a McDonagh play, there is both humour and embarrassment in this one. The first shot is a gorgeous bird’s-eye view of the same Irish island, verdant against a blue sky (in this picture it only rains at night, which, considering actual weather patterns in Ireland, places the film in yet another genre, that of fantasy).
The Carter Burwell music transports us to a simpler period, and we see that Pádraic (Farrell), a milk farmer, has it pretty good: he and his sister live in a cosy cottage, and he seems to check in on his old friend Colm (Gleeson) every day at two. His sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon) responds cynically to his predeparture Colm statement with, “Maybe he just don’t like you no more.”
It seems that this is a case of accidental prophesy. Cause Colm turns down Pádraic. Colm gradually comes to view Pádraic as boring (the earnest fellow’s speech is definitely restricted, if kind), and he eventually comes to the conclusion that he has other things to do with his time, such as composing songs on his fiddle.
Colm admits his own feelings of hopelessness in a confession to the island’s priest. Actually, he has a lot more going on than that.
How Were the Events of Banshees Mentioned?
Several times during the events of “Banshees,” which take place in 1923, characters mention hearing gunfire on the mainland. In a way, the rivalry between Colm and Pádraic can be seen as a metaphor for the Irish Civil War of the time, but the film succeeds most when it avoids focusing on that metaphor.
To the point that it becomes quite gory as a statement on a uniquely Irish brand of stubbornness. For example, Colm threatens Pádraic with finger amputation if Pádraic persists in talking to or at him after Colm has made it obvious that he does not wish to be bothered with such discourse.
Considering that Colm is a fiddler who enjoys playing the instrument, this is a tactic that is even more counterproductive than severing one’s nose to spite one’s face.
Colm finally gives in after Pádraic repeatedly shoves himself in his direction. One of the film’s most ingenious devices is how quickly McDonagh has the audience sympathise with Colm rather than Pádraic. Yes, Colm’s abrupt break in friendship comes out as nasty, but why can’t Pádraic leave the guy alone?
There is truth to what Colm is saying. These are the breaks, socially speaking, and Colm is probably better for Pádraic than Dominic, the really rude son of the policeman who makes Pádraic look like an urbane conversationalist. A relaxed jaw and bulging eyes are the result of someone removing fingers. When will this madness stop?
Nobody does self-loathing like the Irish, and with this film, McDonagh is on far surer footing than when he tried to tell America a thing or two with “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” in 2017. When Colm displays concern for Pádraic after Pádraic gets a thrashing from Dominic’s bastard cop father, it’s a bit puzzling. As a writer, he frequently refutes such claims with sobering observations.
How Was the Performance of Farrell?
And as a filmmaker, he orchestrates the back-and-forth between Farrell and Gleeson with the finesse of someone who values these actors as much as discerning viewers do. They’re not afraid to let it all hang out; Farrell does some of his best acting with his creased brows, and Gleeson’s look is equal parts death ray and mystery.
Sometimes the pauses these guys put on are funnier than the quips McDonagh has written for them. Barry Keoghan’s Dominic is so endearingly vulnerable that his very amusing vulgar brashness almost steals the show from the leads. Overall, a superb performance.
After attending the screening at the Venice Film Festival on September 5th, we wrote this review. On October 21st, it will premiere exclusively in theatres.