At this point, Martin McDonagh is probably—for me—still coasting on goodwill from In Bruges, his transgressive and hyper-quotable black comedy and dreary hitman travelog about a contract killer emotionally recovering from a botched assignment. His last feature, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, went through critical whiplash, quickly picking up awards season acclaim before everyone else took a moment to consider the film’s questionable approach to its own morality play and attempts to explore various American pathologies—racism in policing being but one topic the filmmaker mishandled. (McDonagh’s film before that, 2012’s Seven Psychopaths, I’m much more in favor of.)
So why my excitement for The Banshees of Inisherin? For starters, there’s a strong correlation between Martin McDonagh films I like, and Martin McDonagh films starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. In their new pairing, they play lifelong friends Pádraic (Farrell) and Colm (Gleeson), who find themselves at an impasse when Colm unexpectedly puts an end to their friendship. When the former tries to repair the relationship, Colm threatens to cut off a finger (and then post it to his former friend) every time Pádraic talks to him. It’s a bizarre and very hurtful premise, but one that seems perfect for all involved—Farrell, a noted expert at wounded sad sacks, and Gleeson, always entertaining to watch when he’s playing someone embittered.
The film looks keyed into the same kind of prickly chemistry the two had in In Bruges, with another volatile friendship on the brink of collapse, and if there’s anything McDonagh excels at, it’s conjuring great performances out of his actors, especially with desperate characters. Rather than two assassins taking shelter however, The Banshees of Inisherin, despite the mythic name, goes even more remote than his last few rounds of desert landscapes and small towns, set on an island off the west coast of Ireland, with a smaller cast and hopefully more focus. KC