Written and directed by Martin McDonagh
Many people strain against the “small” existence of tiny villages secluded from the rest of the world. Growing up, they stare off at faraway places while telling their friends that they’re getting out of here someday, who cares where, anywhere but here. Heading into the great world, the encounter with its many people can, however, feel alienating. People shout at you, call you names, because they don’t know your real one. You’re no longer a person, you’re just people.
And so life back in the town from where you came might not seem so bad at all. People know you, know your story. Yes, the gossip is incessant, but you know it’s in one ear, out the other. There’s community, a shared bond, a recognized shared existence.
It’s devastating when that bond is cut though, and to a man older than 30, losing your closest friend is just about the worst thing that can happen to you. Yet that’s what happens to Pádraic, who goes to grab his friend Colm on the way to the pub on a day like every other, only to be stonewalled.
Colm just doesn’t like Pádraic anymore. Not for any particular reason, Colm says, as Pádraic suggests a potential drunken indiscretion (even if he doesn’t remember) as the reason why. Infuriating, exasperating if it wasn’t so tragic, leaving Pádraic to navigate a new world of confusion, anger, and sadness in the public eye. Easier said than done in a small island community of knotted men whose vocabulary doesn’t quite include those terms.
The Banshees of Inisherin is, on paper, another McDonagh story about men behaving badly, but it’s a departure. It’s like reconnecting with a long-absent friend, only to find him suddenly a mellow, jovial figure compared to the sullen, snide person you once knew. While the film still features McDonagh’s trademark witticisms and cutting banter, the outlook and sentiment behind the words are no longer antagonistic, but borne out of compassion.
It makes Banshees heartwarming despite its subject matter, because the story’s dust-ups come from a place of deep vulnerability. Above all, it’s refreshing simply to see male emotions of insecurity, jealousy, anger dealt with from a place of reconciliation instead of retaliation.
Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson form a stellar duet at the center, both so in tune with the comedic timing of McDonagh’s script, and while Gleeson’s aging, pensive Colm seems like a natural fit for Gleeson, the simpleton farmer that is Pádraic might not strike as an obvious fit for Farrell, but he comes good. A lovable dunce, a scared boy, one of life’s happy lads, as a villager puts it.
Flanking the two are Kerry Condon, as Pádraic’s sister Siobhán and the film’s lone voice of reason, and Barry Keoghan, as the very opposite, the village idiot who’s trouble but accepted in spite of it.
Add to that a breathtaking setting in the Irish countryside replete with cottages, pubs and small harbors and you have yourself a enchanting universe with its own peculiar charm, and the trappings of Banshees are compelling on their own, with Pádraic’s array of wool sweaters destined for cinematic wardrobe history.
Banshees is rich in tomfoolery and silly for sure, but disarming, leaving you wanting more when the players are on their game like they are here. Simple in nature, rich in texture, and moving in its exploration of male relationships and their awkward unfolding.