This film was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival
Writer and director Martin McDonagh is no stranger to creating stories that find humor in darkness. In fact, it’s arguably what he does best. With his latest film “The Banshees of Inisherin,” McDonagh captures the sadness of a breakup between two longtime friends with his signature darkly comedic, cynical tone. It’s an emotional character study about loneliness and isolation that expertly blends humor and cruelty, and it’s one of my favorite films so far this year.
Set on a fictional remote island during the Irish Civil War of 1922, the film tells the story of buddies Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson), two men who find themselves at an impasse. It all starts one day when Colm unexpectedly and abruptly decides to end their friendship, offering no explanation and leaving his former pal stunned and saddened. With the help of his sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon) and the troubled islander Dominic (Barry Keoghan), Pádraic plans to do whatever it takes to repair the estranged relationship. His repeated efforts to reconcile annoy Colm to the point that he delivers a shocking ultimatum, which in turn escalates the petty feud to an alarming standoff that could have violent consequences.
Working from an outline of a sad breakup, McDonagh’s script flows with a natural rhythm that’s brimming with sharp wit and wry, dark humor. This isn’t a complex narrative, but the dialogue is impassioned and poignant with a genuine understanding of the human condition. McDonagh’s writing is like no other, with a natural talent that’s enviable. The script plays directly to the specific strengths of his cast, too.
Featuring Oscar-caliber performances, Gleeson and Farrell strike the perfect harmony as Colm and Pádraic. Their rapport is natural and relaxed, and there’s a comfortable feeling between the two actors which no doubt stems from being reunited with McDonagh. This trio should continue to make movies together because something magical happens when they do. Condon and Keoghan are also excellent in this story of conflicts, as Siobhán grapples with the realization that she may risk dying from an unhappy and unfulfilled life if she continues resisting her her urge to flee, and Dominic must deal with the mental suffering of being worn down by his abusive policeman father.
The strongest supporting turns come from the scene-stealing animal actors, who represent loyalty and unconditional friendship in a story that’s peppered with a dark undercurrent. Even as the humans around them struggle with their worlds falling apart (and a civil war raging nearby), their equine and canine companions keep them grounded. One of the most memorable scenes features a touching moment between a miniature donkey and a horse, and it is one that absolutely destroyed me. It’s moments like these that add up to a fiercely affective film that is adept at delivering a highly emotional experience to the audience.
Not only is McDonagh an effective writer, but he is also a talented director with a knack for capturing and creating a mood. Working in tandem with his cinematographer Ben Davis, the film is filled with stunning photography and astonishingly gorgeous scenery of coastal Ireland. These desolate landscapes lend a natural beauty that in turn creates a strong sense of place, providing the perfect backdrop for the story.
“The Banshees of Inisherin” is an example of that increasingly rare instance where a film fully and completely achieves its desired effect. Backed by two of the finest performances of the year and a superbly written script, this is a piece of accomplished, outstanding filmmaking.
By: Louisa Moore