The Banshees of Inisherin
Starring: Colin Ferrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan
Directed by: Martin McDonagh
After watching The Banshees of Inisherin, three things came to mind: Ireland is beautiful, I love my cat, and that this movie is trying too hard to be deep. Martin McDonagh crafts a film fit for your neighbourhood arthouse cinema that is heavy in symbolism and imagery, but it all tends to get lost through the story’s journey. It’s slow, but it will ultimately strike a chord with almost anyone watching it.
Pádraic (Ferrell) find that his friend Colm (Gleeson) is ignoring him. Upon confronting him, Colm tells him that he no longer wants to be friends: he would rather work on his music while he feels that being with Pádraic is dull and not bringing anything to his life. Pádraic does everything he can to save the friendship but is warned by Colm that he will start cutting off his own fingers if Pádraic persists. Despite his sister Siohbán’s (Condon) insistence to let it go, Pádraic keeps pushing, which in turn pushes Colm too far.
Siohbán, who has to deal with this bizarre situation and coming to grips as to the limited opportunities on their small Irish island, has to make a choice between staying and going to the mainland. Pádraic who is starting to see all those close to him leave him, decides to shed his nice guy traits, and make some moves of his own.
McDonagh is trying to tell a story about living, dying, and what is left behind. However, there not enough substance for most of the movie for it to be as poignant as intended. The final act is incredibly powerful and left me holding my cat, wishing he were immortal. The problem is that before we get the meaningful parts, the film can feel like a slog. The only character in the movie that appears to know what’s going on is Colm while everyone else seems to be feeling anything between bewilderment to confusion. While Colm is trying deal with his own mortality and legacy, and thus cutting Pádraic out of his life, nobody knows what to make of his motives and actions, even though many of the film’s characters are at the same crossroads (the exception being Siohbán who later figures out she needs to make a choice). This seems intentional as a device to create intrigue and wonder where the story is going, but it’s not interesting enough to keep everyone’s attention. At a certain point, you no longer wonder why Colm is acting the way he is, and the movie doesn’t have much else going for it.
This means that there’s a lot of meandering dialogue taking place that you may not know what it means until you figure out where the movie is going. The movie doesn’t smack you in the face to tell you it’s about dying and legacy. Even when Colm is giving his reasons to Pádraic about why he wants to end their friendship, it remains unclear as to whether the rationale he’s giving makes sense. At one point, he compares himself to Mozart, which seems laughable considering he’s playing short jigs in a pub.
The movie lays it on thick with the imagery. The paintbrush used to show off Ireland shows a somewhat pristine and quiet corner of the world that’s isolated from the hardship of daily life and the possibility of war (the film is set during the Irish Civil War). There are literal forks in the road where two characters take different routes, and there’s a creepy old woman who is acts as the forbearer of death. Although there isn’t that much overt symbolism that will go over the heads of anyone not looking for it (or making up in their own minds that it’s there), it feels like McDonagh is resting his hat on it to tell the story, but it’s too uninteresting to help with the slow pacing of the movie.
The problem is that the story takes a long time to develop. There are only so many times one can look at the beautiful vistas that are dotted sparsely with interactions involving witty dialogue to give the viewer a giggle. Until Colm begins to follow through with his threats, the movie just kind of meanders around. Even after the shift in tone, it still feels stagnant and only gets going once Siohbán’s storyline moves into full gear.
This is despite excellent acting performances all around, although it did feel that Farrell was a bit more subdued and could have given more emotional impact to his heavier scenes, but it felt more of a choice (either by actor or director, I don’t know) rather than a lack of range. Farrell is a great and more than capable actor. The character of Pádraic doesn’t display his feelings too often giving more weight to the scenes where he shows more emotion, like where he breaks down crying or goes into a fit of rage: it makes those scenes much more powerful.
Although it appears that this review is skewing negative, the final act does deliver on the promise of the movie. It’s poignant and touching that brings forward a need to reflect on one’s own value and legacy. It makes you take stock in what’s important and what you may need to do wound your wounded soul. It practically saves the film and had the film been structured more like the final 25 minutes; it would have been an instant classic. It was enough for me to say I enjoyed this film. However, it wasn’t enough for me to want to ever see this movie ever again. I liked how the movie wrapped up and I felt rewarded for sticking with it, but I question whether it was worth the journey.
Instead, The Banshees of Inisherin will remain a film that cinephile enthusiast will crow about come award season and quickly forget by April. Perhaps Martin McDonagh tried too hard to craft a film that would be a repertoire cinema darling which causes it to misfire at times when it needed it. It’s still a good film, but you need to make it to the end and be fine with having to interpret everything from body language to mise en scene. The disappointment comes from the fact that there’s a good film that could have been so much better. At the end, I was happy I watched the film, but couldn’t care less if Colm loses any more fingers.