In theaters Nov. 4
Lifelong friends Padraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson) used to visit the pub daily at 2 p.m., only Colm abruptly decided he no longer wants to hang out with his dairy farmer pal. That’s cold, and that ignites fiery reactions.
Set on a remote island off the west coast of Ireland, that riff remains at an impasse, despite Padraic’s sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon) and the troubled young man Dominic (Barry Keoghan) interfering to repair the relationship. But Colm won’t budge, and things get ugly, escalating into shocking violence that becomes the talk of the village.
The language is lyrical, the landscape is mythical, and the storytelling a savvy mix of quaint and absurd.
Welcome to the idiosyncratic world of Martin McDonagh, the British-born playwright and filmmaker whose parents were Irish. He understands the cultural rhythms of Ireland, and with his unique aesthetic, creates a dark comical scenario with dramatic overtones, quirky characters, outrageous behavior, and often explosive bursts of violence.
“The Banshees of Inisherin” is unlike anything else you’ve seen or will see at the movies this year.
But it does resemble some of his nine plays that usually involve peculiar people and how they look at the world. In fact, this title was to complete his Aran Islands Trilogy, which includes “The Cripple of Inishmaan” and “The Lieutenant of Inishmore,” only it became a screenplay instead.
His other acclaimed trilogy -- “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” “A Skull in Connemara,” and “The Lonesome West,” includes the daftness and distressing elements that are obvious here in this lonely place in County Galway.
If you are familiar with his films “In Bruges” (2008) and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (2017), both nominated for original screenplay Oscars, then you know how he mixes farce with disturbing actions.
But this tale has genuine emotional depth because of the quality of the performances. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson reunite after playing Irish hitmen 14 years ago in “In Bruges,” only this time, they are friends going through a rough break-up that gets neighbors involved. This theme of separation intensifies and seems to create an imbalance in this rural community -- where everyone knows your name – and business.
It’s important to note the time, for it is 1923, near the end of the Irish Civil War, which is happening on the mainland.
The island is its own character – and cinematographer Ben Davis uses the rocky, rugged spaces to accent the widening gulf between the two pals and highlights the divisiveness by framing scenes through doors and windows. He alternates natural lighting with candles and lanterns. It’s masterful work.
Davis, also known for Marvel movies, creates a mournful mood, which is enhanced through composer Carter Burwell’s haunting score.
Farrell, as the guileless dairy farmer Padraic, delivers one of his best performances. He effortlessly conveys his character’s confusion, frustration and hurt feelings over his buddy no longer wanting to hang out with him.
He’s a kind soul, with a sweet childlike nature, who tends to animals like they are his family. There is a debate, however, about his dullness. But he has his tics, and a stubborn streak.
Unmarried, he lives with his sister Siobhan, the marvelous Kerry Condon, who sticks up for her brother, but is pretty much done with the male attitudes in town. She describes the islanders as “bitter and mental.”
Just as he differs physically, Brendan Gleeson’s Colm is also opposite in temperament. Melancholia may explain his sudden extreme behavior, severing a lifelong friendship for seemingly no behavioral issue, but he’s a very complex character. And when he inflicts suffering on himself, well, it’s a big jolt.
Farrell’s puppy-dog demeanor contrasts with Gleeson’s gruff exterior and they play off each other well. They may each earn their first Oscar nominations for these roles, Farrell in particular, and the film is going to be a year-end awards magnet.
Also noteworthy is Barry Keoghan, a young Irish actor chilling in “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” in 2017, and one of the “Eternals.” The conflict makes everyone in the village uneasy, and his Dominic, a simple but misunderstood kid, is quite upset. But he has other issues that he’s dealing with, involving his abusive father – and how others perceive him.
The supporting roles are as colorful as the principals, and McDonagh excels at crafting personalities – especially flawed ones. Several members of the cast are veterans of his stage plays.
Key to this folksy yarn’s success is how grounded everybody and everything is in this odd enclave, and the lived-in performances add to the rich details that McDonagh has included. This is the kind of film that lives in your headspace for a while because it is just that memorable.