How’s the Despair in The Banshees of Inisherin?

It’s the spring of 1923, and while a civil war wages in the distance on the Irish mainland, the residents of the isle of Inisherin plod through their daily lives, tending to their farms, meeting at the pub, passing the time with fiddle-playing, songs, and maybe a sad book on occasion. Some think about the world and their place in it, what might be left behind, while others just try to be nice in the face of what goes on in the world and the meanness, both big and small, that weighs down on everyone at some time or another.

Seemingly out of the blue, Colm (Brendan Gleeson) decides he just doesn’t like his best friend Padraic (Colin Farrell) anymore, and the uncomfortable distance that broods between them while the small village watches with equal parts snooping curiosity and quiet despair escalates in ways no one expects…except maybe a nosy old banshee of a widow.

I’m happy to report that writer/director Martin McDonagh is back in all his bleak, funny glory with The Banshees of Inisherin. The film is depressing, dark, beautiful, humorous and unforgettable, just like his debut film In Bruges. It’s also oh-so Irish. After a strange detour through America with the big misfire Seven Psychopaths and the mixed bag that was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, which cruised to acclaim on Frances McDormand’s commanding performance, The Banshees of Inisherin represents the very best of what McDonagh can offer us as an artist. He orchestrates this morality play with the perfectly matched cinematography of Ben Davis and score by Carter Burwell.

As for the amazing cast, Gleeson and Farrell are in top form, tapping into the same chemistry that made In Bruges so powerful and reveling in the great dialogue and characters McDonagh has given them. There are so many memorable lines that are poignant, funny, and sad. My favorite might be when Colin Farrell responds to a complaint about animals in the house with, “I want my donkey inside with me when I’m depressed.” Meanwhile, Kerry Condon shines in her role as Padraic’s long suffering and oh-so-wise sister, while Barry Keoghan balances perfectly the innocence, creepiness, and gut-wrenching sadness of his character, the battered and dim son of a malevolent policeman.

McDonagh at his best is admittedly an acquired taste, like a good whiskey that burns a little going down. The Banshees of Inisherin certainly allows you to drink it up.

Review by D. H. Schleicher

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