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‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ delights from beginning to end

Film brings humor, heart against stunning backdrops

<p>As long as the characters are spot on, the dialogue flows well and the aesthetic is fully formed, the movie is bound to work. “The Banshees of Inisherin” passes all of these tests with flying colors.</p><p>Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures</p>

As long as the characters are spot on, the dialogue flows well and the aesthetic is fully formed, the movie is bound to work. “The Banshees of Inisherin” passes all of these tests with flying colors.

Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

From the moment it begins, “The Banshees of Inisherin” places you under its spell. With sweeping shots of the rugged coastlines of Ireland, backed by a delightful fiddle melody, this simple introduction tells the audience that they are in for a treat. In the fictional island of Inisherin that writer and director Martin McDonagh constructs, everyday life in the shadow of the Irish Civil War feels like a mythic folktale — even if our hero is just some average guy. 

This average guy, Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell), is first seen walking to the house of his best friend Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) so they can make their daily visit to the local pub. But something is off this time. Even though Colm is clearly in his house, he’s not answering the door. Pádraic eventually comes to learn that Colm no longer wishes to speak to him, simply because he views Pádraic as dull and just wants some peace and quiet to write some music and play his fiddle.  

There’s something refreshingly simple about this premise. No flash, no glitz and no glamor — but a whole lot of excellent dialogue and acting. As Pádraic becomes more dejected over the loss of his friend and Colm becomes more belligerent in his refusal to speak with him, the viewer is treated to a masterclass in humanistic dialogue that also just happens to be roaringly funny — enough for it to be the funniest movie of the year. But this humor doesn’t take away from the inner turmoil Pádraic faces — if anything, it complements it. As much as the humor is dependent on the pure patheticness of the character, when the film gets funnier, you feel for him more. 

But the film is about more than just one man trying to win a friendship back; in Pádraic’s quest to restore his relationship with Colm, the film introduces a cast of wonderfully idiosyncratic characters. Pádraic’s sister, Siobhan (Kerry Condon), is a voice of reason and the character you feel for the most, as her intelligence just doesn’t seem to fit on this island that seems frozen in time. The best character in the whole film is Dominic Kearney (Barry Keoghan), the mysteriously strange son of a local abusive cop who becomes Pádraic’s only ally as the film goes on. It’s hard to say exactly what makes him so compelling to watch, but it’s probably a cocktail of fascination and discomfort mixed in with a splash of pity. Then, while not “characters” per se, there’s a selection of animals — from a dog to a donkey — whom viewers get to know, adding an unexpected richness to the plot. In fact, the donkey becomes a highlight of the film.

These characters all come together to form an off-kilter world that feels just parallel to reality. When Colm tries to stop Pádraic from talking to him once and for all, he says he will cut off one of his fingers if Pádraic says another word. Once he cuts off this finger, he claims that next time he is spoken to, he will cut off four fingers. It’s interactions like these that make the narrative structure feel much more like folklore than a contemporary film. Pádraic is the perfect character to be at the helm of this tale because he is good and honest, even if there’s not much going on in his brain. Everyone else has their own unique quirks that become accentuated when in conversation with Pádraic.

The film may sound a bit dull in description, but every single aspect of the narrative’s construction is so flawless that something magical gets illuminated on screen. For one, Farrell and Gleeson turn in the performance of their careers, while Keoghan continues to cement himself as one of the most exciting up-and-coming actors working. McDonagh contributes to this equation with a screenplay full of dialogue that has the masterful composition of a great piece of classical music.  

“The Banshees of Inisherin” is deceptively simple. It has a premise that can be defined in one sentence and very few things of impact occur throughout. But this isn’t the kind of movie where anything particularly needs to happen. As long as the characters are spot on, the dialogue flows well and the aesthetic is fully formed, the movie is bound to work. “The Banshees of Inisherin” passes all of these tests with flying colors. It’s hard to poke holes in a movie that so clearly knows what it wants to accomplish and then does it without a hitch. It’s early on in the season of heavy-hitter movie releases and “The Banshees of Inisherin” has set a monumentally high standard for subsequent films to reach. If a better movie than this is released by now and the end of the year, whatever that movie may be, we are in for something special. 

“The Banshees of Inisherin” is playing at the Avon Cinema until Nov. 16.


Finn Kirkpatrick

Finn Kirkpatrick is a senior staff writer in the arts & culture section. He is a sophomore from Los Angeles, California intending to study Comparative Literature who likes to review movies and other things of that sort. 



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