5 out of 5 stars

Martin McDonagh delivers another pitch-perfect black-comedy after Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2019), with The Banshees of Inisherin reuniting the two stars of his debut feature In Bruges (2008) for a dry comedy about loneliness, masculinity, and legacy.

Set in 1923 on the fictional island of Inisherin, the Irish Civil War is taking place on the mainland but the end of a relationship is a more pressing issue. Every day at 2 p.m, dairy farmer Pádraic (Colin Farrell) heads to his best friend Colm’s (Brendan Gleeson) home and the two men drink in the local pub together. Only one day, Colm doesn’t want to go… and Pádraic’s life will forever change.

Colm is one of life’s thinkers, spending his time writing music and playing the fiddle. He feels life is slipping away from him and no longer wants to waste his time on small talk with the more simple-minded Pádraic. Apparently, there are only so many conversations about donkey faeces one can have! He’s so serious about this relationship breakdown that he claims he’ll cut a finger off every time Pádraic even speaks to him.

It’s almost impossible to not compare the eccentric townsfolk and rural locale to Father Ted’s Craggy Island. In many ways, Pádraic could be a relative of Ardal O’Hanlon’s Father Dougal with his childlike naivety and obsession with being “one of life’s good guys.” Sometimes war can turn even the nicest of men into jealous monsters, as the events of The Banshees of Inisherin show. Pádraic wanted a simple life living with his bookish sister Siobahn (Kerry Condon) and his pet donkey Jenny.

McDonagh’s screenplay is genuinely hilarious, filled with witty lines and fast-paced banter. The cast elevates the script further by grounding their characters and making them believable. Farrell, who won ‘Best Actor’ at the 2022 Venice Film Festival for his performance here, is heart-breaking as Pádraic, a man who loses the little he did have in just a few days. His brows furrow in sadness as he tries to understand why being dull and nice is such a bad thing.

Gleeson is just as captivating delivering an intoxicating combination of melancholy and madness. Whether marching around the idyllic country lanes or vivaciously playing the fiddle in the pub, there’s always a hint of danger behind Colm’s eyes.

Whilst Gleeson and Farrell take centre stage with their natural rapport, the supporting cast is just as worthy of praise. Barry Keoghan (Eternals) captures the perfect mix of pathos and comedy as Dominic, the son of the local police officer, who’s widely considered the village dunce. Despite his reputation for annoying women, he’s going through his own private battle and is simply looking for love elsewhere.

McDonagh’s crisp writing is matched by Ben Davis’ beautiful images of Inisherin (filmed on the island of Inishmore), capturing the slow-moving life of a remote island a century ago, from the little shops to the cows in the field. It looks like the most profound episode of Father Ted you ever watch.

At first, The Banshees of Inisherin seems a strange concept, men wandering back and forth to the pub and church, upset at the breakup of a friendship. But it deals with rarely addressed issues of platonic relationships between men, making the drama incredibly relatable. It also makes you wonder what’s more important—your life or your legacy? Is it best to be thought of fondly during life or remembered in your passing for greatness?

The Banshees of Inisherin has a flawless script, even if it does sag under the weight of its third act. McDonagh can’t quite find the right way to string all his darkly comedic themes together, with the character developments not ringing entirely true. Perhaps it’s because The Banshees of Inisherin is a film about expressing the inexpressible, Pádraic’s inability to admit his true emotions does make the final act seem a little hollow. But the writing on the way to that point is so witty and clever that it almost doesn’t matter.

With its striking balance of dark comedy, rich performances, and layered characters, The Banshees of Inisherin is McDonagh at his best, weaving a complex world that captures the full spectrum of human emotions. You’ll be belly laughing one moment and gasping in shock the next, a balancing act of brilliance from the British-Irish playwright.


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Cast & Crew

writer & director: Martin McDonagh.
starring: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan, Pat Shortt, Jon Kenny, & Brid Ni Neachtain.