The Banshees of Inisherin Is a Tender but Devastating Meditation on Male Friendship and Civil War: Review

Martin McDonagh's fourth film is his most restrained effort yet

Banshees of Inisherin Review

The Pitch: Filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh had outlined a rough trilogy of plays called “The Aran Islands Trilogy.” The first two plays of the set, 1996’s The Cripple of Inishmaan and 2001’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore, were published and produced to major success, but the trilogy’s final play, The Banshees of Inisheer, never materialized. Now, 20 years later, McDonagh arrives once more with The Banshees of Inisherin — a work that does not necessarily serve as the trilogy’s final piece, but one that contains many of McDonagh’s literary and artistic motifs.

Born in England and raised by Irish parents, McDonagh has oft been in search of depicting the tragicomic aspects of Irish identity, with many of his plays and films taking place in Ireland and/or with an Irish cast. But even beyond these cultural staples, McDonagh has become lauded in the theater and film worlds for his sharp, idiosyncratic dialogue, his insular approach to storytelling, and his ability to juxtapose a type of light-hearted humanity with cruel, passionate acts of violence.

So it’s fitting that for McDonagh’s fourth film — the follow-up to his resoundingly successful Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri — he returns to the Aran Islands with The Banshees of Inisherin, a smaller, but similarly poignant tale. Taking place in 1923 on the small fictional island of Inisherin off the Irish coast, the film begins with local man Pádraic (played by Colin Farrell) as he strolls to the house of his best friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson) for their usual 2 p.m. happy hour. But, shockingly, Colm rejects Pádraic’s invitation, and suddenly ends their friendship.

Devastated and confused, Pádraic finds some support in his sister, Siobhán (Kerry Condon), as well as the town sheriff’s foolish young son, Dominic (Barry Keoghan), while Colm stubbornly requests a peaceful life free from Pádraic to continue playing his fiddle. But Pádraic refuses to accept Colm’s terms, leading to a significant rift between the two. Meanwhile, the Irish Civil War rages on the mainland, with McDonagh cleverly treating Pádraic and Colm’s conflict as an allegory to the fight happening beyond Inisherin’s quaint malaise.

Though The Banshees of Inisherin marks a major reunion between Farrell and Gleeson, both stars of McDonagh’s 2008 film, In Bruges, the tension that populates — and eventually destroys — their characters’ relationship is devastating. The film is surprisingly emotional; the conflict between Colm and Pádraic feels totally avoidable at the start of the film, but as we see glimpse after glimpse of each character’s stubbornness, their relatively simple conflict becomes a sharp wound that cements the film as a solemn tragedy.

Banshees of Inisherin Review
The Banshees of Inisherin (Searchlight Pictures)
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