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'The Banshees of Inisherin' is kind of a wonder

Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in the film THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN.
Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022
20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.
Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in the film THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN.

The Banshees of Inisherin is kind of a wonder, a movie that reads like an allegory, but that could be an allegory for any number of parts of the human condition; a movie that takes place over only a few square miles, but that’s grand in its themes; a movie that’s terribly funny and painfully sad, often at the same time. It’s one of the best movies of the year.

The setup is straightforward enough, and instantly intriguing: On the fictional island of Inisherin, just off the coast of Ireland, Pádraic shows up at his friend Colm’s house for their daily afternoon trip to the pub. But today, Colm won’t answer the door. And later, Colm won’t talk to Pádraic when he finally shows up to the pub. Pádraic is bewildered, because things were just fine yesterday, but eventually Colm says, “Pádraic, I just don’t like you anymore.”

Why this has happened, and how it all unfolds, is part of the delight and the heartbreaking ache of the film. Much of that is due to three elements that seem to create a perfect magic together—the two leads, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, and the film’s director and writer, Martin McDonagh. The men collaborated 14 years ago on the enchantingly existential crime comedy In Bruges, and they may have surpassed that film here, with Farrell turning in career-best work as the kind, simple, dull Pádraic, and Gleeson bringing his gravity to a character who turns out maybe not to have all his marbles. And both actors know exactly how to deliver the enormously clever dialogue by McDonagh, who’s bounced back in a big way from his uneven Oscar nominee Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

We cannot forget, though, the only sane person on the island, Pádraic’s sister Siobhan, who maybe stands in for the parts of us who wonder how things could have gotten to this point, and who’s played with an understandable exasperation by Kerry Condon. We see parts of ourselves in each of the characters, but it’s hers that offers some hope for what might come, hope that’s badly needed as the world rages on.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.