"The Banshees of Inisherin" is the fourth movie written and directed by the brilliant Martin McDonagh. The film has drawn recognition from some of the most prestigious awards in the industry, receiving nine Oscar nominations and three Golden Globe wins, including Best Picture Musical/Comedy. Given the film’s glowing critical reception, I had high expectations for it going in. And yet, “The Banshees of Inisherin” still managed to exceed those expectations in every way.
The film takes place on the remote island of Inisherin off the coast of Ireland during the 1923 Irish Civil War. The film centers around the deteriorating friendship between Padraic Suilleabhain (Colin Farrell), a lighthearted farmer on the island, and Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson), a lifelong musician. Colm abruptly ends their friendship to center his life on musical aspiration.
Padraic works with his sister Siobhan Suilleabhain (Kerry Codon) and a young townsman, Dominic Kearney (Barry Keoghan), to understand Colm’s sudden change of heart. After Colm proposes an ultimatum hoping to stop Padriac from ever talking to him again, Padraic takes drastic steps to mend their friendship as he continues to grow callous.
McDonagh is a newer director on the Hollywood stage. His first directorial debut was "In Bruges," a crime-comedy with largely positive reviews for its acting and writing, and three golden globe nominations. His later movies include "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," which received six Oscar nominations and six Golden Globe nominations. McDonagh has a track record of making great movies that highlight actors’ and actresses’ talents through amazing editing and writing, and “The Banshees of Inisherin” is no exception.
“The Banshees of Inisherin” is a perfect example of how framing and composition can be employed to portray the tension between characters. McDonagh primarily captures Padraic and Colm in single shots when they are talking to each other. This means that only one of the characters is in the frame during a shot. If Padraic and Colm are in a two-shot, a structure like a wall is blocking them. This means that if both subjects are in the same frame, McDonagh places a barrier between them. This masterful camera-work develops the growing separation between the two characters. It’s a shame the movie was not nominated for the Oscar in best cinematography, as the movie is an exemplar of the role framing and composition can have in defining the literal and symbolic relationships between characters such as Colm and Padraic.
Farrell and Gleeson do a fantastic job bringing the characters to life. Farrell brings innocence and joy to Padraic's personality while allowing for the character's darker side to show as he falls prey to the increasing despair of loneliness as the film progresses. At first glance, Gleeson may seem largely unemotional. However, as the film continues, Gleeson gives subtle cues that hint at his character masking his genuine emotions in the movie, which makes the audience question his true motives and the sincerity of his care for his old friend.
A standout character in the movie is Kerry Codon, who plays Padraic’s sister. Her role in the film is pivotal and adds drama and uncertainty to the plot. Her character highlights the purpose of family relationships in preserving the humanity of individuals.
Although the movie's plot about the break-up of a friendship may sound boring, McDonagh layers complexities into the characters and seeds riveting turns throughout the film which keep the audience engaged. The movie clocks in at one hour and fifty-four minutes but never feels too long. Some may find the ending to be a little too abrupt, but this leaves the conclusion up to interpretation, and this uncertainty is where the movie shines.
The movie, at its core, invites two interpretations. The most obvious interpretation is that the film is about a debate played out by the characters: should life be spent enjoying time with friends or spent pursuing some more profound reason to be remembered beyond death. The less-obvious interpretation is that the film is about how the original purpose of conflict is lost when the humanity of individuals is forgotten. These two interpretations pave the way for complex themes that audiences will reflect upon long after viewing. The more I think about this film, the more I am convinced of McDonagh's utter mastery over ever-complex characters and themes.
Overall, "The Banshees of Inisherin" has remarkably little to complain about. From its beautiful shots of the Irish coast to the complex nature of characters brought to life by its fantastic acting and script, "The Banshees of Inisherin" is a movie you don't want to miss this Oscar season.