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Because we as a culture can mistakenly equate beauty with superficiality, it took some time to realize what a great actor Colin Farrell is. He’s always been a charismatic on-screen presence, though in recent years he’s revealed striking new emotional depths as a leading man in films like Lobster and this year After Yang. He’s also shown to be willing to bury his beauty under mounds of dentures as the villainous Penguin in The Batman.
Farrell gives what might be his best performance yet in The Banshees of Inisherin, and one of the reasons he’s so good at it is because he’s playing a character who, perhaps like Farrell himself, is used to being underrated. His character, Pádraic, is a kind-hearted farmer who has spent his entire life on Inisherin, a small fictional island off the coast of Ireland.
It’s 1923, and life here is simple and repetitive, which is why it sends little shockwaves on a day when Pádraic’s best friend Colm refuses to join him for their usual afternoon beer. at pub. He soon learns that Colm, played by Brendan Gleeson, has decided to end their decades-long friendship without a word of explanation.
Over time, the truth comes out: Colm finds Pádraic boring and is tired of listening to the young man’s endless yapping, especially since it prevents Colm from pursuing his passion: playing and composing music for the violin.
Gleeson is great at showing you the tenderness beneath his outward stoicism, and what’s heartbreaking is that Colm Is still like Pádraic – but he also knows their friendship is wearing him down. But Pádraic cannot accept Colm’s decision. He tries to cajole his former friend, then beg him, then harass him.
At one point, Colm becomes so irritated that he threatens to physically hurt himself if Pádraic doesn’t leave him alone. And since this is a film written and directed by Martin McDonagh, the Irish-British playwright and filmmaker with a taste for baroque comic violence, you know it’s no idle threat.
This movie isn’t as macabre as some of McDonagh’s early work on stage and screen – I still have fond memories of seeing his blood-soaked play The Lieutenant of Inishmore years ago, and a little less fond memories of his Oscar-winning film Three billboards outside of Ebbing, Missouri. Compared to the extremely uneven mix of comedy and tragedy in this film, The Banshees of Inisherin is a calmer, gentler work, but its melancholy is also much deeper. McDonagh opens the story with gorgeous postcard-worthy images of Inisherin, all lush green landscapes and even a rainbow in the sky. But in the end, it quashed any sweet or sentimental thoughts we might have for this isolated community, where people can be mean and petty and mock those who want to leave or strive for something better. .
Few people know this as well as Pádraic’s bookish sister, Siobhan, played by a terrific Kerry Condon. She loves her brother very much, his flaws and everything. She’s also one of the few people in town who can connect intellectually with Colm, and she understands why he wants to be left alone.
There are other colorful supporting characters too: a nasty policeman, an old woman prophesying doom and a dull young man played, with wonderful pathos, by Barry Keoghan. And I haven’t even mentioned the cast of animals: two of the film’s most important characters are Colm’s collie and Pádraic’s donkey, noble creatures that put human pettiness and stupidity to shame.
There’s something a little flippant about that idea – and also about the way The Banshees of Inisherin uses the Irish Civil War, raging in the background of the story, as a counterpoint to the conflict between Pádraic and Colm. But there’s nothing flippant about the way these two characters are written. Watching Farrell and Gleeson rage against each other is a better understanding of what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. It’s been a long time since a movie extracted so much drama from the end of a beautiful friendship.