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  • Nate Adams

'The Banshees of Inisherin' review: A tragic and heartwarming look at the pillars of friendship

Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures


The year is 1923 and the Irish Civil War has been raging for almost a year. Across the ponds of Galway Bay, on the tiny, fictional island of Inisherin, gunshots and cannon blasts can be heard for miles. How or why the war started is fuzzy and even though the end seems near, there’s a different type of conflict festering nearby. That of Padraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) and Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) two chummy lads who were inseparable until they weren’t. One has outgrown the other in their search for meaningful purpose and legacy, ready to create something worth standing the test of time.

So is the backdrop to Martin McDonagh’s poignant, darkly comical and heartbreaking “The Banshees of Inisherin” which deconstructs every facet of what true, honorable friendship means in times of despair. McDonagh’s follow-up to his Oscar winning “Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” and “In Bruges,” that also starred Farrell and Gleeson, is a steady two-hander anchored by sensational performances and a slew of memorable supporting ones. The British-Irish playwright hasn’t lost his touch, comedically or dramatically, serving up a deeply layered conflict that doesn’t ask its audience to choose a side, but to understand how these two chums got here in the first place.

The truth is, “The Banshees of Inisherin” doesn’t show us when Colm and Padraic were pals, because the movie begins, in the present, like any ordinary day. It’s 2 o’clock and Padraic wants to grab a pint with his pal as they have done every day prior. Nothing unusual there. But Padraic is struck when his best friend ignores his requests and dismisses him like yesterday’s garbage. Aware that his time is growing short, Colm has decided, without warning, that severing ties with Padraic will allow more versatility and freedom in his daily livelihood. Re: Padraic isn’t intellectual enough for him and time spent aimless chatting about big bowls of nothing is time wasted.

Padraic is stunned at the confession, and Farrell hilariously channels over a dozen puppy-dog facial expressions as the character processes the information, setting the stage for a war of insults and loyalty. Padraic refuses to back down with McDonagh’s allegorical split reminiscent of the ensuring Troubles riots that happened in the late 1960s. But McDonagh explores heavier themes surrounding loneliness, compassion, and events quickly swerve from bad-to-worse with a pair of rusty garden sheers playing a vital role in the proceedings. You can tell these two men obviously care about each other, but does Padraic possess the strength to love someone enough to let them go? The signals, akin to the ones Colm sends throughout the movie, are mixed.

Meanwhile, there’s a batch of supporting characters who give Inisherin shades of authenticity: Kerry Condon is immaculate playing Padraic’s stern, reasonable, and unmarried sister trying to mend the divide; and Barry Keoghan almost steals the show, bringing an engaging and tender personality to Dominic, the village idiot who provides a good chunk of comedic relief, but deep down yearns for something deeper. He’s a soft shell beaten and battered by a sexually and physically abusive father and the actor steadily holds his own opposite Farrell and Gleeson as both are essentially throwing a no-hitter for two straight hours.

When the dust settles, and you’ve allowed the movie to simmer, Gleeson performance is the most complex and emotionally charged, an older gent contemplating mortality and valuing intelligence over mediocrity. It’s a career defining role emboldened by an incredible co-star and screenplay that shifts perspectives and never confirms who, if any of the characters, were justified in their actions. McDonagh does get the last laugh in a blistering finale that doesn’t question the inciting incidents but seeks to recontextualize them in the aftermath of two friends who maybe need each other more than they think. 

Grade: A

THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN is now playing in theaters.

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