Written and Directed by Martin McDonagh
Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan, Sheila Flitton

Colin Farrell is on track to become one of his era’s most versitale and accomplished actors. He never flinches at the offer of a role, no matter how slight the character may be appear on the script. The Banshees of Inisherin is one of those roles that must have looked ridiculously underwritten on paper, but Farrell manages to bring Pádraic Súilleabháin to life in a powerfully understated way. As brilliant as his Oscar nominated performance is, it is one of many great performances in this worthy, if peculiar tale.

Taking place during the end of the Irish Civil War in 1923, on a fictional Irish island called Inisherin, a musician Colm Doherty (Gleeson) struggles to create new music. He decides that the fault of his mental block lies in his friendship with the seemingly dull-minded Pádraic. He decides to end his relationship with his friend. Pádraic, a simple, good hearted man with none too much to say, but very happy to say it routinely, is completely flummoxed at Colm’s sudden turn.

Being that they live in a small town, there are not many places to go, and invariably Pádraic runs into Colm frequently, trying to ascertain how serious Colm is about turning away. Before long, Colm makes a threat to Pádraic that he will cut off a finger for each time Pádraic attempts to draw him into a conversation.

Pádraic’s sister, Siobhán (Condon) thinks that both of them are behaving like fools. The experience brings her a more concentrated understanding that she’s not going anywhere in her life. She’s much smarter than most of the people in town and she knows she is wasting her life. There is much more she wants to achieve than to navigate grievances the rest of her days.

Keoghan is Dominic Kearney, the son of the local Garda (Policeman) is a friend of both men. He and Siobhán attempt to mediate between the fueding friends, but to no avail. Dominic has challenges of his own, however, including an abusive relationship with his father and an unrequited love for Siobhán.

All of these performances are locked in, solid and faithfully represent the greater metaphor of Ireland of the time. Two friends, splitting apart for a somewhat silly reason (in Colm’s case). The subsequent fued is needlessly destructive. All of this is foretold with doom by an old local woman, serving as a defacto Banshee, Mrs. McCormick.

The film is nominated for 9 Oscars, Including Best Picture, Director, Actor (Farrell), Supporting Actress (Condon), and two for Supporting Actor (Gleeson and Keoghan). If only all of them could win. Despite the presence of an absolutely ludicrous logic by Colm’s character, everything else in this story works. The idea presented in the main story is completely unique to my experience with stories in general, and both actors play it with cunning and grace enough to feel their lived experience.

As for the subplots, Condon and Keoghan push the more familiar tropes with such grounded realism, we feel their pain and hope for their happiness, in whatever way possible. Both rise above their material to deliver what would be the performance of a lifetime for most other actors.

McDonagh shows an incredible grip on the allegory he portrays through Ireland of the past. He also knows how to get the most out of his extremely talented cast. The film is eminently watchable, if a bit grotesque at times. The funny parts are funny. The tragic parts are woeful. For all of its 114 minute run time, the viewer is enmeshed in a stark world undergoing a painful period of change that will leave none of its characters changed.

(**** out of *****)

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