Martin McDonagh, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are reunited on a craggy island during the Irish Civil War. Still, at least they’re not in fucking Bruges.
A similarly purgatorial potency pervades this tiny town where entire lifetimes are spent walking to and from the pub, a rural routine interrupted when Colm (Gleeson) decides he no longer wishes to be friends with Pádraic (Farrell), setting off a cycle of violence with neither end nor reason. The absurdity of their squabble is echoed in the sound of cannons exploding on the mainland and into the present day, as neighbours turn into strangers, and friends to enemies.
While uniquely Irish in setting and humour, the ideas are modern and universal, namely the need for kindness and kinship in times of polarisation and escalation. As always McDonagh communicates in comedy as rich and dark as Guinness. Townsfolk looking for moral authority or spiritual guidance are confronted by an abusive policeman (Gary Lydon) and a meddlesome priest (David Pearse), embodiments of institutions coming apart at the seams.
The small scale and big themes make this McDonagh the playwright’s film, and that proves something of a double-edged sword. His characters and dialogue are unimpeachable, but we miss the cinematic quality of his previous movies, explaining the story without as much visual engagement. He now finds himself in the unfortunate position of being compared not only to his brother John Michael McDonagh (Calvary), but also Yorgos Lanthimos (The Killing of a Sacred Deer), both of whom employ the same actors and similar yet distinct strains of black humour.
This might be Farrell’s finest work in a run of great performances that have increasingly leant into his innate melancholy, instead of the bland action roles in which he made his name. He is heartbreaking as a man driven mad by loneliness, the lost puppy to Gleeson’s hangdog former friend. Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan are brilliant as the other speaking roles in a picture devoid of ambient noise, emphasising the breakdown of community, drinking in traumatised silence.
Though it lacks the renegade revelations of Calvary or In Bruges, The Banshees of Inisherin is a timely reminder that in a sea of conflict, everyman’s an island.