The Banshees of Inisherin (2022): Film Review

I toyed with seeing this film for a few months, the preview looked intriguing, but I figured I might have to see it alone. I doubted that my companion would be up for this strange-looking little film. Surprisingly, she was, but her interest quickly waned as the film very slowly unwound.

The Banshees of Inisherin is a very slow film. That’s not the only thing going against it. The dialogue is spoken with a thick Irish accent, enough that some theaters present it with subtitles. We streamed it at home with closed captions, which is the way to view it. The film takes place on an island off the coast of Ireland in what might be a small hamlet. The setting is usually overcast and photographed with filters that mute any bright colors. In other words, the mood is somber at best on this out-of-the-way location. The characters are quirky, but not the typical quirkiness where the audience finds them engaging or at least interesting. And, the film takes place in 1923.

My girlfriend asked how long we had to watch until we threw in the towel. This was date night, and it was turning into a downer. I wanted to hang in a bit longer, while she worked on her computer, with one eye occasionally on the TV. She knew I wanted to see the film and was giving it every chance to show some of the greatness that garnered many award nominations. Maybe I was trying too hard to like it, and for it measure up to my expectations.

The film centers on two close friends, who suddenly and unexpectedly, suffer a disruption in their friendship. Colin Farrell plays Pádraic Súilleabháin, who can’t understand why Colm Doherty played by Brendan Gleeson, wants nothing to do with him. Pádraic can get no clear answer from Colm, so he repeatedly tries to get an explanation from the increasingly irritated former friend. As a side note, Colm is a musician and plays the fiddle, a talent that Gleeson brings to the film. Fiddle playing, like most musical instruments, is best done using all of your fingers.

Pádraic tries to understand why Colm unfriended him, and deal with the escalating consequences of their split. Colm is both gruff and thoughtful; he’s come to a pivotal issue, which drives the film’s narrative. Colm is having an internal, existential moment, maybe a first for their island community. Pádraic lives more in the moment and he’s totally baffled by Colm’s action. It is both amusing and sad to see Pádraic struggle, and then resort to his own strange actions.

Surrounding Gleeson and Farrell are the others in the small village, who get sucked up in the conflict. The film benefits from a talented supporting cast, especially Kerry Condon as Siobhán Súilleabháin, Pádraic’s unhappy sister.

The film was written and directed by Martin McDonagh, a playwright and filmmaker, whose past films include films In Bruges (2008), Seven Psychopaths (2012) and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017). McDonagh understands how to make a small story into a moving and deeply felt experience. His camera gets inside the characters in his films, although you might not always like what you see. He does not wrap up his stories into clean and easy to process outcomes. Frayed characters are still frayed, yet their motivations have been tested and the audience can see their struggles. Is the ending of The Banshees of Inisherin a satisfying one? Not really, it’s a confusing one.

The reason to see this film is simply to enjoy Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. Both are deservedly nominated for Academy Awards. Gleeson is an actor most will recognize, but can’t quite come up with a name. He has that rugged, well-worn persona that fits comfortably with his role in the Harry Potter films, Braveheart, 28 Days Later, Dark Blue, Beowulf and many others. His thick Irish speech can to softened to play British, American and other characters. He brings a serious, almost menacing vibe to many of his most recognizable roles, yet that seriousness can be turned inside-out for lighthearted projects.

I am not surprised to see the skilled performance of Gleeson, however, Farrell’s performance did. His acting has often been overshadowed by his looks and bad-boy demeanor. He played the Sonny Crockett role in Miami Vice, and then have large roles in Minority Report, Hart’s War, S.W.A.T., The Recuit, Alexander, Tigerland and other action-adventure films. Then I noticed something interesting, Farrell began showing up in smaller roles in more serious films, and lead roles in indie films that you’ve heard of. He still big the blockbusters like the remake of Total Recall, but there would be Horrible Bosses, The Lobster and Seven Psychopaths, all very offbeat roles. The one performance that greatly impressed me was his turn in Saving Mr. Banks, as the alcoholic, failing father. It’s a sad role, but pivotal to the story, told in flashback. The role is buried in the film, yet stands out as an example of Farrell playing against type and going for the role, not the billing.

A few Farrell roles.

I would not be surprised to see this film do well at the Oscars, it is picking up many other awards and solid reviews. See it with an open mind and closed captioning.

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