At The Movies: In The Banshees Of Inisherin, a quarrel escalates into a minor war

The Banshees Of Inisherin stars Colin Farrell in a comedy-drama about two old friends who fall out over the issue of personal space. PHOTO: THE WALT DISNEY CO
(From left) Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell in The Banshees of Inisherin. PHOTO: The Walt Disney Co

The Banshees Of Inisherin (M18)

114 minutes, opens on Thursday

4 stars

The story: In 1923, as the Irish Civil War rages, a smaller conflict breaks out between two men. Friends Colm (Brendan Gleeson) and Padraic (Colin Farrell) have spent their lives on a speck of rock off the west coast, meeting at the island’s lone pub every day to chat about the same topics. Colm suddenly announces that he wants to be left alone. A distraught Padraic refuses to accept the decision, leading to actions that will shake up the community.

In a village steeped in Catholicism, one man draws a line in the sand and another chooses to ignore it. The result is a charming drama-comedy about those who prefer a calm, predictable sadness over unstable joy.

Is Colm, in asking to be left alone, being unreasonable? Does Padriac’s reaction stem from selfishness, or concern for the older man? Is Padraic right to feel betrayed after having invested so much in a friendship? Can a village be too small to tolerate an eccentric?

Through Colm and Padraic, Oscar-winning British-Irish writer-director Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, 2017) has found two compelling characters to animate his favourite themes.

In his comedies In Bruges (2008), also starring Gleeson and Farrell, and Seven Psychopaths (2012), characters touched by tragedy develop bizarre coping mechanisms, which by the end of the films, do not appear so bizarre after all. Being unhinged is perhaps the truest form of freedom.

The sensitive, thoughtful Colm sees Irish rural miserabilism for what it is. He is a tragic figure, a man born decades too soon and in the wrong place. Lording over Inisherin are petty officials whose aim is to beat everyone down to their level of self-loathing. Feeling especially oppressed are Dominic (Barry Keoghan), an outcast, and Padraic’s unmarried sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon). Like Colm, she sees the walls closing in on her.

As happens in a McDonagh film, a witchy figure is there to provide creepy-funny moments of foreshadowing. One appears here, for story texture and to reinforce the idea that the ways of Inisherin are old and predate the church.

McDonagh’s sparkling dialogue, with pathos and comedy infused into every line, is delightful as always. Farrell, Gleeson, Keoghan and Condon make the poetry feel like natural speech.

Hot take: McDonagh serves up anti-nostalgia in this period piece about men and women who become tall poppies in an Irish village that is only too eager to cut them down.

Remote video URL

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.