The pedigree of Martin McDonagh as a filmmaker is huge. His short film Six Shooter saw his Oscar nominated after a long career as a celebrated playwright, his debut feature In Bruges remains a darkly comic modern classic that helped change the course of Colin Farrell’s career, and his award winning 2017 Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was both comical in it’s jokes and harrowing in it’s underlying themes earning Frances McDormand a well deserved second award and Sam Rockwell his moment in the spotlight.
Now McDonagh is back with The Banshees of Inisherin, a darkly funny fable about two men in the early twenties Irish island of Inisherin. When Colm (Brendan Gleeson) decides to cut off his long term friendship with Pádraic (Colin Farrell), the two begin a feud that draws out a deep rooted anger in Pádraic.
McDonagh couldn’t write a boring film if he tried, even his lesser effort – 2012’s Seven Psychopaths is filled with hilarious one liners, moments of abject horror and memorable moments. He has an ear for conversation and for lines that will be quoted in the foyer from Ralph Fiennes screaming that his wife is an inanimate fucking object, to Christopher Walken refusing to put his hands up at gun point because he doesn’t want to there is a Tarantino-esq love of coarse humour that runs through McDonagh’s work.
He also has an eye for the beauty of the world around. The sense of place in Inisherin is the same as the fairytale land of Bruges, the modern frontier of Ebbing, but here we have this land of untouched beauty. Miles of grassland stopped only by the occasional cottage. It’s a film of real rural beauty, postcards given movement.
It helps that bringing his In Bruges pairing of Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson helps massively, both have an easy charisma that makes the sparse dialogue at times all the more poignant as Farrell muses over why his friend no longer wants to talk to him. Despite how good they both are, they’re upstaged by Barry Keoghan adding another weirdo to his growing catalogue and the quiet pain of Kerry Condon. As the feud escalates and the concept of what being “nice” is really about and how it matters there comes this moment where the pain of loving someone who cannot move on breaks Condon.
As with any McDonagh film, the score from Carter Burwell is moving and underlines the growing sense of something awful coming in the future.
It’s a shame, somewhat, that the film isn’t as funny or as moving as his previous work. McDonagh still slips in some great lines – “I’m not here for a licking, I’m here for whatever the opposite of a licking is” is a highlight. But by the end you don’t feel like the film has managed to give you any profound comments of conflict or resolution, and the ongoing metaphor of the Irish civil war and the futility of violence feels like it could have been better honed in something else.
Even so, McDonagh has made another fine addition to his growing filmography that features some career best work from the cast.