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Close-Up with Camenker Volume XXXL, Movie Review: THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN

November 15, 2022

When writer/director Martin McDonagh released his 2017 film THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI, I was among the minority who found it slightly overrated. Though I enjoyed the performances and the overarching themes of that movie, I found the plot embedded with events that were unrealistic. Nonetheless, I still admired McDonagh as a filmmaker and acknowledged that he has an innate gift for casting good performers.

My reservations with THREE BILLBOARDS left me not expecting much from McDonagh’s new film, THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN despite it receiving pretty rave reviews from critics all around. Ultimately, I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed it and walked away able to say that it is indeed a great film.

Dark comedies are plentiful these days, but really strong ones can be particularly hard to find. This piece was among the really strong, layered with a unique mix of laugh-out-loud funny moments and cringeworthy humor, which is something that I love. 

The story of two long-time friends on a remote island in Ireland who suddenly are at odds when one chooses to end the friendship, THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN is as much a commentary as it is a dark comedy in my opinion. McDonagh, whose parents were born in Ireland but raised him in England, appears to go back to his familial roots here and the location is a far cry from the Middle America of THREE BILLBOARDS. The stark contrast in setting between the two films alone is proof that McDonagh is a versatile and adventurous filmmaker with incredible breadth.

Colin Farrell plays Padraic, the likable drinking buddy of the musically inclined Colm, who’s played by Brendan Gleeson. When Colm makes the abrupt call to end their friendship, Padraic, a bachelor who lives with his sister and their animals, is both shocked and devastated. Colm doesn’t seem to mind just playing his fiddle all day at home with his dog. What ensues is a plot filled with feuding and confrontation, audacity and gusto. 

Layered beneath all of that is, I believe, a commentary from screenwriter McDonagh on isolation and solitude when one leads such a sheltered life. The fictional setting of Inisherin plays a key role in this thematic illustration, providing those of us who have lived urban or suburban life with a backdrop that is realistic yet untenable, beautiful yet extremely remote. A major part of the script revolves around the island where many of its inhabitants have always lived and feel incredibly sheltered and alone.

There’s almost a nihilistic view embedded here, focused on the landscape of “nothing” that undoubtedly exists in Inisherin where the rolling hills, cattle, and local pub are just about all there is to see or do. Up until the final confrontation between the two friends, who endure great change in their own lives amidst this plot, there’s a feel that is reminiscent of Jean-Paul Sartre’s play NO EXIT where there’s literally no escape. Padraic and Colm seem unable to think of life outside of Inisherin.

The two men deliver strong and memorable performances, Farrell’s riddled with blank face humor and funny quips, Gleeson’s full of subdued energy and rough mannerisms. They are supported well by actress Kerry Condon, whose portrayal of Padraic’s sister Siobhan is heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.

Aside from a strong script and direction by McDonagh, the film itself is extremely well made. You feel as though you are in Ireland throughout thanks to the brilliant cinematography and authentic score. As it is set in 1923, the designs match the period nicely and add another level of authenticity to the mix.

There’s no denying that McDonagh knows how to make a good picture. This one reads a lot stronger and less “over the top” to me, which I think may be a plus for him this awards season. I am curious to see if and how he and his crew on THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN stack up against other titles.

Stay tuned for more from me down the road!

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