‘The Banshees of Inisherin’: Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson Are Friends at War in Masterful Tragicomedy

Against the backdrop of the Irish Civil War, two men find themselves in the middle of what turns out to be their own war of sorts in “The Banshees of Inisherin,” a darkly humorous exploration of human nature. Colin Farrell stars as Pádraic, a lifelong inhabitant of Inisherin, an island off of the coast of Ireland, who is pushed to the edge after being iced out by his best friend, Colm (Brendan Gleeson).

The story begins when Pádraic stops by Colm’s house so they can walk to the pub together, something we are led to believe they have done most every afternoon at two up until this point. However, Colm ignores him, only to turn up at the bar later and insist that Pádraic keep his distance. After some prodding, he explains that he does not want to waste the time he has left to him engaging in small talk with his former friend, whom he calls dull. It’s harsh, but Colm is a bit older than Pádraic and is thinking about his legacy. He believes he can take the time he used to spend chatting it up and use it to compose a song on his fiddle. 

If Colm were to just hide out at home and dedicate himself to his music, perhaps Pádraic would have been able to eventually come to terms with the friend break-up (maybe). But the two men still see each other at the pub every evening, much to the discomfort of themselves and those around him. In one standout scene, when Colm explains how he wants to leave his mark on history through his music like Mozart did, Pádraic explains that he would rather be remembered for his kindness. Colm retorts that people who are merely kind are destined to be forgotten in 50 years. So determined he is to not have to speak to Pádraic again that he threatens to cut off his own fingers if he dares talk to him.

Kerry Condon co-stars as Siobhán, Pádraic’s bookworm sister who lives with him in the house left to them by their late parents. Seemingly the most rational person on Inisherin, she finds herself in the middle of her brother and Colm’s fighting. Although she believes Colm to be needlessly cruel and possibly mentally ill, she also has trouble understanding why Pádraic won’t simply leave the man alone. The three of them represent the different ways to cope with life on such an isolated location: Siobhán actively makes plans to leave and seek an opportunity on the mainland, Colm wallows in despair, and Pádraic makes the best of his situation, at least he does until Colm makes him question his self-worth.

Other characters include Dominic (Barry Keoghan), a dimwitted young man who is regularly knocked around by his drunkard cop father (Gary Lydon), and Mrs. McCormick (Sheila Flitton), an eerie old woman who lurks around and predicts deaths. Chatterbox Dominic is to Pádraic what Pádraic probably once was to Colm, and he surmises that Colm is probably testing him to see if he will stand up for himself. This is not quite the case, but a tragedy involving one of Pádraic’s beloved donkeys forces him to change course where Colm is concerned.

“The Banshees of Inisherin” was written and directed by Martin McDonagh, and the filmmaker does not seem to pick a side when it comes to Pádraic and Colm. Instead, he makes the viewer an uncomfortable observer, eventually allowing them to draw their own conclusions. When the civil war is first mentioned, one assumes this will be a timely tale about differences in politics tearing friends apart, but this is hardly the case. McDonagh, who himself is British-Irish, even refrains from commenting about that conflict. Although the war is being fought just across the water on the mainland, it seems to have little impact on the island folk, who seem more concerned with local gossip than politics. In one scene that highlights the pointlessness of war, Dominic’s father Peadar gloats to Colm about being invited to attend an execution, as it would include his version of entertainment and free food; he does not even know or care who is executing whom. 

Finally, the performances here are excellent. Farrell, who played a lot of conventional leading man roles in the 2000s, has really branched out and played interesting characters this past decade, and Pádraic is probably the most interesting of them all. Gleeson also delivers a masterful performance as a depressed man in his twilight years thinking about his mortality. Condon, an actress who has for years been toiling away in supporting roles, puts her talent on full display as this woman with feet in two lands just separated by a body of water.

The Banshees of Inisherin” releases Oct. 21 in New York and Los Angeles, Nov. 4 nationwide.