“Maybe he just doesn’t like you anymore.”
The first shot of The Banshees of Inisherin is intentional, and it has more soul and purpose than the rest of this picture does over the span of two grueling hours. We see plots of green, carefully divided but nonetheless united, and it coalesces as cliffs abridge and waves crest before carefully collapsing into the ether of this make believe town. It’s early 20th century, directly set against the backdrop of the Irish Civil War, and the molecular level of the story immediately pits its two leads against each other. We’re almost left to wonder who will make it out alive. The local banshee haunts as much as she observes.
The central drama is universal, despite how hard it can be to remember that as you watch the picture meander and wander and nitpick its way throughout. Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) is suddenly shunned by his former best friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson). Their 2 O’Clock pints are sipped slower separately, and an ultimatum is presented; Colm – a talented string musician – vows to take sheep shears to his playing hand should Pádraic continue to bother him. But it’s a small town, and peace does not necessarily come quietly. This is a bloody drama, and the delivery is slow. I’ve seen it twice now and it’s like a drawn out hospital visit. No quick stitches here. But a mop might help.
It’s hard to care about Pádraic; he’s dull in all of the ways he doesn’t want to be and vengeful in ways we hope he’s better than. And Colm is a confused artist who craves silence so that he can create noise. We don’t necessarily root for one over the other, and one of the film’s minors successes is in how it gives both space to breathe and be. The co-leads are partners through and through, and while Barry Keoghan is stuck playing a character who’s too dumb and dim for his own good, the film is saved by Siobhán (Kerry Condon). She can read, write, and imagine a life beyond the breakers. The Banshees of Inisherin has been nominated for more awards than I would have guessed, but none is more deserving than Condon’s. She’s the heart and the soul and the brains of the picture.
I always struggle with films when the point is about creating great art yet no actual art is made. There’s no memorable subterfuge underneath all of this commotion; no poem, no painting, no song and no lyric and no melody to hum. I so badly wanted something to appease the pain, to make the bloodshed worthwhile, and for the separation to make a space for great art. The Banshees of Inisherin – which is supposedly named after Colm’s pièce de résistance – feels more like a one liner than it does an unchained melody, and it’s another example of how intelligent Martin McDonagh’s dialogue might sound on the page despite how hollow it comes across in this context of the dramaturgy.
“I just don’t have a place for dullness in my life anymore.”
Rating: 3 out of 5