The Banshees of Inisherin review: Brilliant, bleak break-up movie from In Bruges team

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Break-up movies come in all shapes and sizes, but they are rarely about friendships. The new movie from In Bruges collaborators Martin McDonagh, Colin Farrell and Brendon Gleeson plugs that gap, focussing on what happens when pals part, in hilarious, and at times brutal fashion.

No one makes movies quite like Martin McDonagh. The playwright-turned-filmmaker crafts drama with the blackest humor, the likes of In Bruges and Three Billdboards frequently funny, but often painfully so.

Farrell and Gleeson star, alongside Barry Keoghan and Kerry Condon, and the ensemble is superb, doing justice to McDonagh’s poetic script. While the scenery is stunning, bringing Ireland to life in a way that’s rarely seen onscreen.

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The result is a film that’s filled with beauty, but also has a heartbreaking sting in its tail.

What is The Banshees of Inisherin about?

Farrell plays Pádraic, a simple man of simple pleasures, the main one being the daily pint his has with Gleeson’s Colm. But when Pádraic calls on Colm, his friend doesn’t answer the door. Preferring to sit and smoke and ignore his drinking buddy.

So starts a mystery. Exactly what has Pádraic done to so offend his longtime companion? And how can he fix what Colm sees as being broken.

It’s funny at first, with Pádraic doing everything in his power to put things right, and consistently getting it wrong. But then the film turns dark, via a shocking ultimatum with bloody consequences. And then Banshees becomes darker still, as their crises becomes existential, before taking a deadly turn.

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The dumped, and the dumpee

The story is slight, but the themes are huge, and tricky to discuss without spoiling the story. But politics is a factor, being no coincidence that Banshees is set in 1923, when Civil War is playing out across the bay, on the mainland.

Art also comes into play, with Colm an ageing fiddle player who wants to spend what’s left of his life composing music rather than listening to idle chatter. While despair and depression are also discussed, in a way that doesn’t quite match with the times.

But ultimately it’s a story about breaking up, the film presenting the point-of-view of the dumped, while also being sympathetic to the dumpee.

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Spiritual sequel to In Bruges

Ireland has never looked more beautiful, with McDonagh’s cinematographer Ben Davis bringing a cosy warmth to the interiors, and shooting exteriors that make the fictional island of the title both welcoming, and unforgiving.

There are times when it feels like a spiritual sequel to In Bruges, with Gleeson again the grumpy git, and Farrell consistently confused. They deliver fine performances that are well complemented by Kerry Condon as Pádraic’s sister, who finds herself caught between the pair. While a donkey also steals every scene it is in.

But Barry Keoghan is the stand-out, his Dominic a seeming simpleton who starts the film excited by a stick, but then reveals himself to have hidden depths, which makes his character’s journey all-the-more distressing.

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The Verdict – is The Banshees of Inisherin good?

The Banshees of Inisherin is definitely the work of a playwright, with the dialogue at times feeling overwritten. But there’s beauty in the words, with sentences going round in circles, and conversations folding back on themselves in hypnotic fashion.

The location frequently feels a bit Craggy Island, thanks to the eccentric characters and broad situations. But there’s no harm in evoking comedy classic Father Ted.

Banshees has a more serious story to tell however, with the underlying message concerning coping with the slow passing of time until death, and what makes a life well lived. Making the movie McDonagh’s most mature feature yet, and very possibly his best.

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The Banshee of Inisherin will premiere in cinemas on October 21.