By Ben Thomson, Staff Writer
The year is 1923. As the Irish Civil War nears the end, a whole new one begins a few miles from the battlefield on the small island of Inisherin. This new conflict begins not with gunfire, nor a cannon. It begins with seven words: “I just don’t like ya no more.”
Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin follows two Irish blokes in the final days of their friendship. Colm Sonny Larry Doherty (Brendan Gleeson), an older fiddler, wants nothing more to do with his dimwitted friend Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) whom he feels is holding him back, wanting to instead focus on his music. Pádraic, who spends every day at the pub with Colm Sonny Larry, is heartbroken and determined to mend the friendship, though his efforts only make things worse.
Banshee’s strength lies in its writing. Pádraic and Colm are both selfish and stupid, yet both are positioned as one or the other. McDonagh’s characters are hardly ever what they seem to be. Colm claims to be smarter than Pádraic but thinks Mozart was alive in the 17th century. Pádraic is known as the “nice” one on the island, yet he schemes to get Colm’s new friend out of the picture.
The irony of the film is that these two pricks are a match made in heaven, which isn’t overtly apparent when the film begins. This is only helped by Gleeson and Farrell’s phenomenal chemistry.
Meanwhile, another Inisher story unfolds in the background of this great bickering. Siobhan (Kerry Condon), sister to Pádraic, is feeling the weight of isolation on the tiny little island. The only other person to give her an ounce of attention is Dominic (Barry Keoghan), a dim boy with an abusive police officer father (Gary Lydon).
Unlike the two men we follow, these two characters embody the true smart-dumb dynamic of the film. Siobhan is the smartest one on the island, and Dominic is the village dullard, though neither have any pretensions regarding themselves. Siobhan and Dominic are two deeply sad characters that don’t blame other people for the world they feel anchored to, but two people whose lives are made worse by the people around them. Everybody on the island of Inisherin bogs themselves down as slaves to their own small pockets of existence.
For a place that seems to suck the life out of those who occupy it, the island of Inisherin is visually incredible. The film’s director of photography, Ben Davis, knows exactly which rock formation, sunset and foggy plain to capture for the most beautiful imagery imaginable.
The natural vistas here are incredible, which tracks with McDonagh’s “American West” vision of how the film would look. You can see that, too, in some of the more subtle shots. Doorways and windows play a huge role in the visual language of Banshees just like they would in any western. McDonagh’s ability to utilize the small environment to his storytelling advantage is so seamless that the beauty sort of sneaks up on you.The Banshees of Inisherin is the sneaky prize of 2022. Its simple premise and somewhat standard presentation do little to prepare the viewer for a truly special, somber filmgoing experience.