The Banshees of Inisherin by Martin McDonagh [5/10]

An unabashed devotee of Martin McDonagh (who can forget In Bruges and Nine Billboards Outside Ebbling, Missouri?), my first film of 2023, his “The Banshees of Inisherin,” came laden with expectations. Alas, these were shattered, although it took the entire 94 minutes of this wickedly dark drama/comedy to dump me into an odd sense of betrayal. So much of this movie feels just right (in a McDonagh sense): the wonderful atmospherics of an isolated Irish island in the 1920s; the tinkly childish music; the Irish dialogue laced with humor and irony; and the sustained build-up of tension. Colin Farrell tries so hard with his portrayal of Pádraic, a naive young man blessed with natural optimism. Brendan Gleeson, playing Pádraic’s lifelong drinking companion, Colm, a craggy older man, imbues his character with marvellously expressive eyebrows and a malevolent stare. The plotline can be summed up simply: Colm decides summarily one day he no longer “likes” Pádraic and asks to be left alone, something Pádraic cannot abide, and their existential tussle around their friendship status escalates into darker and darker territory. All well and fine, and I watched with fascination. It was only when the film ended, with a post-climax final encounter between the ex-friends, that I suddenly appreciated how little the central characters meant to me. Whether due to a flawed script, or due to off-kilter overacting, neither Pádraic or Colm registered as real people in a real world. The Banshees of Insherin was, I thought, almost angrily, a perfect McDonagh slice of blackness, but only on paper. On the screen it failed.

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