Celebrated Irish playwright Martin McDonagh made his filmmaking debut with the brilliant In Bruges in 2008. McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin reunites the lead actors of In Bruges. If that black comedy, about two mobsters who camp in the Belgian city while awaiting instructions from their boss, belonged to Brendan Gleeson, The Banshees of Inisherin is owned by Colin Farrell.
After winning acclaim at the Venice Film Festival, The Banshees of Inisherin is tipped to earn a few Oscar nominations. At the very least, Farrell deserves recognition for his moving portrayal of a man whose fatal flaw is dullness. A nod for McDonagh, who has crafted a compelling existentialist drama, will be well-deserved too.
The 114-minute film is available on Disney+ Hotstar. Apart from McDonagh’s screenplay and the performances, the English-language movie boasts of a plangent score by American composer Carter Burwell.
The longstanding friendship between folk singer Colm (Gleeson) and farmer Padraic (Farrell) disappears the day Colm decides that Padraic is too boring for words. Colm’s overnight rejection wounds Padraic, who vents to his sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon) and the resident village idiot Dominic (Barry Keoghan).
Try as he might, Padraic is unable to patch up with Colm, who suffers from the “despair”, as the local priest calls it. Padraic’s quest for meaning turns out to be not very different from Colm’s disquiet.
The story is set in 1923, around the time of the Irish Civil War being fought between the Irish Republican Army and the Provisional Government of Ireland that was supported by the British. Donagh skillfully weaves together the anxieties of individuals stuck in a place that is a dead end despite its physical beauty and the larger spirit of disagreement that fuelled Irish separatist sentiment.
Suffused with blistering verbal exchanges, bursts of violence and scenes of aching tenderness, The Banshees of Inisherin is at once a study of Irish character and a universal tale of human foibles. Donagh largely dispenses with the profanity that marks his screenplays to instead focus on the ways in which people hurt each with the things they say and bottle up.
The uniformly superb cast is led by a superbly nuanced Colin Farrell. Donagh also makes room for an excellently trained donkey and a heart-meltingly shaggy dog.