Following his award-winning feature Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was always going to be an enormous task for filmmaker Martin McDonagh. Still, McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin, which had its North American release earlier this month at the Toronto International Film Festival, is a stunning achievement. Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, and Barry Keoghan, The Banshees of Inisherin tells the story of two friends, Pádraic (Farrell) and Colm (Gleeson), and the conflict that arises when one of them decides to end their friendship.
“Absurd” is not the right word to describe the madness that comes over this film as it plays. There is so much going on here that it’s nearly impossible to explain almost anything without giving everything else away. Perhaps a comparison will help: The Banshees of Inisherin is the perfect blend of what made McDonagh’s other movies so beloved – only elevated. It is, quite simply, his best film to date.
In his previous films, McDonagh relies heavily on a mystery or crime element. The Banshees of Inisherin breaks that mold. McDonagh has always crafted compelling characters, but, in his previous films, the story always revolved around the crime. That doesn’t mean that the film is without an element of crime; instead, the true story belongs to its relationships. With The Banshees of Inisherin, McDonagh leans into his characters fully, trusting them with the story and its layers upon layers adding up to aforementioned madness.
These are everyday people; and, while they take extreme measures to settle their conflicts, they remain the same. The Banshees of Inisherin‘s strength lies within that humanity. The more the story advances, the weirder and more chaotic its characters get. Meanwhile, the film itself stays true to what’s at its core: the essence of humanity and how time moves even when we don’t want it to. Colm wants his life to have meaning; Siobhán (Condon) aches for something more than her life; Dominic (Keoghan) wants to be loved and noticed; Pádraic simply wants everything to stay the same. It’s those competing motivations that, no matter what else is happening, drive every single action and word.
Driving the strength of the characters is The Banshees of Inisherin‘s four central performances. The cast is incredible from top to bottom, but Farrell, Gleeson, Condon, and Keoghan all deliver in every single facet. And no one shines more brightly than Farrell, who gives what may well be his finest performance. He walks the imperceptible line between absurdity and realism with a nuance and sensibility underscored by the fact that Pádraic is a departure from Farrell’s usual roles.
But he truly shines when opposite Gleeson’s stoic and strong Colm. Both actors portray two characters who try their best though they fail on many fronts. Gleeson, though, brings to Colm a humanity that others have forgotten. Though he is the film’s instigator, the reason for its hurt and insanity, Gleeson lends a stunningly human aspect to this idea of a man, one who takes extreme measures to cut his friend off and who may ultimately do something with whatever is left of him in his life.
While Gleeson and Farrell get the biggest roles, they take nothing away from Condon and Keoghan. Keoghan shines, delivering a hilarious-yet-tragic performance as Dominic – one that could have bordered on the offensive at times, if it weren’t for Keoghan’s charisma. Meanwhile, Condon rises to the challenge of being the straight woman in the film. The level-headed one in the madness, she tackles the job with such brilliance that her depiction of Siobhán – the supposed normal one of the four – is nonetheless one of the film’s funniest.
The Banshees of Inisherin is a successful departure for Martin McDonagh. The film keeps the same sensitivity for which McDonagh has always been known; the humor, still ingrained in his script, comes across as it always does. Yet this is also his most mature work. It marks the first time his voice truly comes through. Paired with a string of incredible performances, the result is one of the most enjoyable films of the year, one that has you in tears of laughter a second before gut-punching you and making you cry non-stop.
The Banshees of Inisherin will be released on October 21, 2022 by Searchlight Pictures.