REVIEW | Oscar-nominated, The Banshees of Inisherin, is a masterpiece that takes you from laughter to tears

Colin Farrell in The Banshees of Inisherin.
Colin Farrell in The Banshees of Inisherin.
Photo: Jonathan Hession/Searchlight Pictures

On a remote island off the coast of Ireland, Pádraic is devastated when his buddy Colm suddenly ends their lifelong friendship. With help from his sister and a troubled young islander, Pádraic sets out to repair the damaged relationship by any means necessary. However, as Colm's resolve only strengthens, he soon delivers an ultimatum that leads to shocking consequences.

As prestigious film festivals and the current award season glitter with fantastic runs for many filmmakers - both rising stars and well-established veterans - it's clear that 2022 was quite the comeback year for cinema. 

Everything Everywhere All At Once was a hard lock as the top film of last year, with two Golden Globe wins, a Critic's Choice Award and 11 Oscar nominations. Hot on its heels is The Banshees of Inisherin, with three Golden Globe wins in the same Comedy/Musical categories and nine Oscar nominations. After finally watching it (it probably wouldn't even have seen South Africa's big screens if it wasn't a Best Picture nominee), I understand why it's such a close race. It's a masterpiece of a film that is a must-watch for every lover of cinema.

Set in 1923, near the end of the Irish Civil War, Pádraic (Colin Farrell) usually wakes up, heads off to his best friend's house at exactly two o'clock, and the two go to the pub together. Today, however, Colm (Brendan Gleeson) ignores him completely, refuses to engage with him and instantly breaks off their lifelong friendship. This sets Pádraic on a downward spiral, confused about what he did and doing everything he can to set everything right again.

The tragicomedy offers a dark take on the idea of 'ghosting' outside of a modern society, where one can't hide from its consequences behind a digital wall. The humour hits with a pang of pain, and you constantly change sides throughout. The desolation of the friendship not only affects Pádraic and Colm, but its flames spread to those around them. It's rare to see the breakdown of a platonic relationship in a film in this manner, especially male friendship set against the beautiful yet isolating hills of a green Irish island, which amplifies the Pádraic loneliness that grows exponentially as the film progresses, becoming almost unbearable. Director and writer Martin McDonagh has a knack for capturing sadness that lingers, bubbling underneath the surface and slowly overwhelming the screen despite the 'comedic' scenes. You have to be in a good place mentally to survive the ending.

What made The Banshees of Inisherin stand out alongside its performances is its mindblowing cinematography, which is poetically immaculate and will make you fall in love with cinema all over again. Shot mostly on Inis Mór Island in Ireland, cinematographer Ben Davis not only depended on the beautiful scenery to create his money shots. Placement, movement and angles are meticulously planned out to evoke a deep emotional connection with the visuals and show a well-oiled working partnership between the cinematographer and director. It's genuinely shocking that it got snubbed by the Oscars in the cinematography category, certain it has inspired many young filmmakers and placed Inis Mór on many travel bucket lists.

The Banshees of Inisherin's flawless execution extends to its performances, with Farrell and Gleeson reuniting with McDonagh more than ten years after working together on In Bruges. Even though their characters are at constant odds, Farrell and Gleeson have a unique chemistry that's hard to fake, ready to kill and hug each other at the same time. Their timing is effortless, and Farrell fell deep into a dark space to give us the performance of his career.

The film also had a tight Irish supporting cast in Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan, playing Pádraic's well-read and sensible sister and the troubled son of an abusive police officer, respectively. Keoghan's character is a difficult role to portray sensitively, especially as it's implied he's developmentally challenged. Yet, the writers and actor together crafted a tragic human that earned Keoghan many accolades, including an Oscar nom. All these characters show the different facets of living isolated from the world - one frustrated with narrow-mindedness, one abused, another going mad with loneliness and another grappling with whether anyone will remember him when he's gone.

The Banshees of Inisherin is not the kind of comedy that will make you smile, but rather one where laughter quickly turns into tears at the absurd fragility of human relationships. It magnifies our never-ending efforts to cling to dying connections, hoping they will save us from drowning when we drag them down with us instead. A poignant and memorable film that I won't forget for a long time.

Where to watch: Now showing in cinema

Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan

Our rating: 5/5


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