Director Martin McDonagh is reunited with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in a visually stunning but disturbing depiction of the end of a lifelong friendship.
The Banshees of Inisherin is being widely held as a masterpiece by many critics. The tale portrays the unexpected collapse of a life long friendship between two men, inhabitants of a relatively isolated island off the Irish coast in 1923. Pádraic (Colin Farrell) is deeply troubled when Colm (Brendan Gleeson) abruptly ends their friendship. As Pádraic attempts to find out the reasons for this sudden development, Colm develops an extraordinary resolve that leads to him taking some macabre measures to demonstrate just how much he wishes to be left alone. With a phenomenal cast performances and some breath-taking scenery and incredibly well considered cinematography, the film charts the themes of friendship and the quest for meaning and legacy. The pointlessness of conflict is explored as the Irish civil war rumbles off screen like some brooding storm.
"Niceness doesn't last"
It is unquestionably true that Banshees is a beautiful piece of art. The astonishing scenery oozes out of the lingering frames as does a litany of astonishing acting performances, squeezing every ounce of power out of a script which moves like a diesel car sputtering to a stop at a slow speed; making slow progress and occasionally lurching forward, catching you unawares.
It is not a film for everybody, I would go further and say it is not a piece of entertainment, even though entertainment can be found within the dark comedy of the piece. This is a study of the weight of the awareness of impending mortality and the spiralling pain of the futility of grudges.
The central pairing are greatly different characters. Pádraic is a simple soul who can talk effusively on the content of his Donkey's dropping for an evening; but Colm, a fiddle player, is a contemplative man who falls into bouts of existential despair. When Colm decides to break off his daily ritual of passing the time in the local pub, Pádraic's long suffering sister responds with a chilling prediction - "Perhaps he just doesn't like you no more."
The plot develops as set out in the trailer - there is clear comedy in the dry script. Farrell's depiction of Pádriac, as an almost naïve, childlike simple man, complete with carefully observed body language, drives a pathos within the audience. As he wrestles with the developing confusion which is exacerbated by further complications in his straight forward life (no spoilers), his good guy niceness is tested and his innocence turns to vengeance - anger overcoming his kindness.
The film dances around a mythical folk fire of possibilities. Constantly teasing the chance of slipping into the supernatural, toying with the themes of Shakespearian tragedy. Visually the canvas is the sumptuous emerald green and dry stone grey of Ireland but the costume design has frequent clear colour palette shifts which leads to a further layer of fascination with the piece as you attempt to understand what the film was trying to suggest. Distinct chapters of colour, constant references to yellows and reds and symbolism in full effect using colour in some obvious shots. The interiors are given lingering pans as the audience are allowed to discover the details in the corners of the rooms and there is a reason why there are countless internet hits if you search for the film and costume design.
While attention is being given to the leading pair, alongside them are some astonishing performances. Kerry Condon as Pádraic's sister Siobhán, wrestling with her own desires for purpose and meaning, she is magnetic as she is frustrated with all the men around her. She is quite often the exasperated adult in the room as she spends her days trying to repair the relationship between Colm and Pádriac and spends her nights crying herself to sleep in despair at her loneliness and lack of meaning. She must manage all of this weight while also trying to ward off the advances of Dominic (Barry Keoghan), the young son of the island Police officer. Dominic's role as the village idiot has a significant role in the unfolding drama, interlocking with the key events and delivering astute observations through his stupor. I would also be amiss if I did not give an honourable mention to the confessional scenes which are two of the most delightful set pieces in the film as the visiting priest is challenged on his wisdom by Colm.
I would not define it as one of the greatest demonstrations of the art form of cinema and I am confident that many people will be left feeling unimpressed or potentially bored. It is disarmingly funny and at times horrendously moving. A particular cart ride in which no words are shared is heavy with meaning and entrancing on the screen. The storytelling is a nod to a lost art and modern taste will struggle to find the sustenance. It is there though, in the violence of the self mutilation Colm embarks upon and the despair it wreaks on those left in his path as he stomps along the lanes in his menacing, billowing coat. This will produce a generation of acolytes who will enthuse about it for years to come as film students attempt to decode the formula. If you want to have questions posed to you this is worth the watch, if you expect a post credit scene perhaps best to give it a miss.