Set in the fictional island of Inisherin in 1923, to the backdrop of the Irish Civil War as gunfire and canons are consistently seen, heard, and attempted to be ignored, The Banshees of Inisherin is mostly focused on two men – Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson), as Colm informs Pádraic that he no longer wants to be friends with him anymore. This deeply confuses and bothers Pádraic, as he can’t remember a time where the two of them didn’t join together and share a pint together at the local pub. Colm assures Pádraic that there’s nothing he’s doing wrong, but that he simply doesn’t have time for him anymore and that he’d rather focus on more meaningful pursuits like making music. All of this is established within the first 10-20 minutes of the film, and the rest sees the two men decline into madness of trying to understand the other.
Like most films from writer/director Martin McDonagh, the film is deeply political – but it is a bit surprising how much this film doesn’t feel flashy in its politics, considering McDonagh’s last film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was about as subtle as a sledgehammer with what it was trying to say about America. While I do find myself on the side of usually defending Three Billboards when discussing it with friends, I found myself really appreciating the nuance and subtlety behind The Banshees of Inisherin. For a film that is a vulgar and outwardly comedic as it is, it feels incredibly restrained in the best of ways – making for something entirely thought-provoking and sincere. As a massive fan of In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, there’s a great point to be made for Banshees to be McDonagh’s finest film yet.
McDonagh’s writing and direction is obviously a big part of why the film is as incredible as it is, on-top of the quiet-yet-infectious score from composer Carter Burwell and the stunning scenery of Ireland amplified by the incredible cinematography from DP Ben Davis. However, for a film that’s as contained as this one is, a lot of the weight of the film falls onto the shoulders of the performers – which is what makes the central performances from Farrell and Gleeson all the more impressive. Their tension with one another is one of the most intense and emotionally brutal relationships I’ve seen depicted on film in quite sometime, and McDonagh’s screenplay wisely lets the audience know the two of them broadly and equally. The supporting cast is incredible here as well, especially players like Barry Keoghan and Kerry Condon who are absolutely remarkable in both their comedic and dramatic scenes.
So much of the film feels reliant on how much the audience cares about the central conflict, and I genuinely can’t imagine anyone not immediately gravitating towards how uniquely its shot, written, and performed from the moment it begins. The Banshees of Inisherin exceeds merely being one of the finest films I’ve seen this year, but also one of the most unique and rewarding I’ve seen in many. It feels destined to clean-up at the Academy Awards next year, but I’m confident it will have an amazing shelf-life beyond that and will easily go-down as Martin McDonagh’s finest work thus far.