If writer-director Martin McDonagh could do every one of his movies with lead roles for Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson then I would be a very happy camper. Seriously, one a year, one every few years, whatever the schedule allows, just have the words and direction from McDonagh and the main performances from Farrell and Gleeson. While The Banshees Of Inisherin may not be quite as good as the mighty In Bruges, it's a very close call. So close that I wouldn't waste energy arguing with anyone who wanted to rank McDonagh's movies in alphabetical order: [The] Banshees Of Inisherin, In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I will keep arguing with you if you decide to put "Three Billboards" at the top of the tree though, but different strokes for different folks.
What you get here is the tale of two friends who stop being friends. Farrell is the pleasant, but maybe a bit boring, Pádraic. Gleeson is a folk musician named Colm. Pádraic and Colm have been firm friends for a long time, keeping one another company as the time idly ticks away on the small Irish isle that they call home. The Irish Civil War is still going on, but the isle of Inisherin often feels as if it could be on another planet. Nothing much seems to change there, which is why it's such a strange upheaval to see Pádraic and Colm stop being friends, especially when Pádraic can't figure out why he's suddenly persona non grata with Colm. He wants to make everything right again, but that just ends up escalating the situation, leading to painful repercussions and a very tense atmosphere in the local pub. While Colm seems happy in his own company, Pádraic struggles, spending some more of his time with the empty-headed, but sweet, Dominic (Barry Keoghan), and trying to convince his sister, Siobhán (Kerry Condon), that she doesn't need to leave the island to have a good life.
A film so densely packed that it makes you worry slightly about discussing it in-depth with others, for fear of mixing up what is intended by McDonagh with what may be the result of viewer baggage projected on to the screen, The Banshees Of Inisherin is about the history of Ireland, about the need to have open communication with those close to you, and about the damage caused by trying to close down and ignore mental health issues. It's also about the avoidable damage that can be self-inflicted, and it's, most obviously, about the end of a relationship. Although we're seeing the end of a friendship in the movie, it could be any relationship ending, and it's a stranger and more painful experience for the person who doesn't want it to end.
Picking a best performance is a near-impossible task, with both Farrell and Gleeson on absolutely top form, and Keoghan giving a performance so great that I finally agree with people who have been praising him highly for the past few years. Condon is just as good as any of her male co-stars, standing out as the one islander recognising how far from idyllic island life is, and I have to praise Gary Lydon for his role as Peadar Kearney, the local policeman who is also the abusive father of Keoghan's character. Last, but by no means least, everyone should love Jenny, a donkey played by . . . Jenny the donkey.
Equal parts hilarious and devastating, and as ultimately split between light and dark as a settled pint of Guinness, The Banshees Of Inisherin is smart, timelessly relevant, heartbreaking, and a contender for the best film of the year. One or two decisions hold it back from perfection, especially when things become even darker in the third act, but, like any solid and enduring relationship, dealing with the bad times helps you to appreciate all of the good.
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