The few, very carefully selected, directorial endeavors made by the English auteur and screenwriter Martin McDonagh illustrate the fact that he has the habit of making movies whenever he feels that he has something meaningful to say to the audience, never indulging the movie industry's voracious appetite for strictly genre-defined works. In his previous three feature films, McDonagh left a deep imprint to the cinephile filmgoers' minds and imagination while he also established his distinct hallmarks in respect to certain aspects of filmmaking such as main theme selection, the realistic depiction of violence, extreme use of foul language, and the "rapid-fire dialogue", reminiscent of the screenplays crafted by the great David Mamet. In his latest feat, The Banshees of Inisherin, McDonagh reconvenes Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell who were the two protagonists in the well-received, comedy with an existential spin, In Bruges. The two seasoned actors enacted the roles of a couple of hitmen who travel to Belgium in order to carry out an assignment, obeying the orders of their hilariously cruel boss, impeccably played by Ralph Fiennes. In this one, Gleeson and Farrell are entangled in a pernicious bromance that escalates violently over the course of the story. Male discontent is pictured as the director's over-arching theme, pervading all of his works to date, and this attribution finds its appropriate justification here.
The movie can be more accurately described as a tragicomedy, Glenn Kenny in his review on rogerebert.com (for the full article click here) more colorfully defines it as "a comedy of mortification as well as exasperation". Even though more delicate and less sharp in its screenplay and narrative tone, The Banshees of Inisherin remains in the same terrain which McDonagh loves to plough as he has proved in his heretofore oeuvre that is brimming with -loser- male characters whose behavior is determined by their inherent flaws, in search of meaning as they go through the toughest of predicaments, often involving brutality and rampage. The protagonists, Pádraic Súilleabháin (C. Farrell) and Colm Doherty (B. Gleeson), form a rather odd pair, maintaining a friendship that is primarily imposed by the harsh reality of living in a small community, such as the film's setting, the fictional island of Inisherin on the coast of Ireland. The minimal size of the local society forces the denizens to socialize with each other, even if they share nothing in common or even embrace a totally different mindframe and life stance. The latter is the case with Pádraic and Colm as the first is a simple milk farmer who loves to run his mouth off about random trivialities such as his donkey's excrements while the second belongs to the more brooding, solemn type of men who ascribe value to their time, forbidding them from being consumed with the petty and the immaterial.
In the film's opening we watch as Pádraic walks down the road to knock on his best friend's, Colm's, door in order for the two of them to go for a pint in the local pub. Strangely enough, Colm doesn't respond in Pádraic's calling and remains sitting inside his house, smoking and staring in the middle distance. Bewildered by Colm's behavior, Pádraic will ask his buddy for an explanation when he meets him again in person only to receive the unimaginable reply/explanation by Colm: "I just don't like you anymore". These few words cause major distress to the not-so-bright local blabbermouth who, additionally, gets scrutinized by the other members of the closed-knit community about the fracture in his relationship with Colm, something that frequently leads to costly admissions on his part regarding his own deficiencies as a character. Pádraic lives with his sister Siobhán, a noteworthy performance by Kerry Condon, and often offers asylum to the dim-witted, rude youngster Dominic (Barry Keoghan) who frequently gets severely beaten by his obnoxious policeman father. All those characters will be in many ways affected by the ending of Padraic and Colm's long-standing friendship, and their sub-plots embed a kaleidoscopic quality to the production.
After the initial shock, Colm attempts to explain himself both to Pádraic and his fellow citizens, claiming that he cannot stand another moment of aridity in his life, accusing Pádraic of being unbearably "dull". At another moment, he confesses to his former amigo: "I just have this tremendous sense of time slippin' away on me, Padraic. And I think I need to spend the time I have left thinking and composing". Colm plays the fiddle and struggles to compose a song, the titular "Banshees of Inisherin". His vocation is the driving force motivating him in life as he upholds the notion that abstract conceptual entities such as "niceness", a word which Pádraic uses to describe himself, don't last in time and are essentially irrelevant to the human condition. For Colm only art is the ticket to immortality, employing the example of Mozart, a genius who is remembered for his diachronic works of art rather than his character deficiencies. The real question is: Is Colm truly resolved to change tack in his life, completely rebuffing any pointless chatter and inconsequential interactions, focusing on his music or is his decision to cut ties with Pádraic the result of a looming depression, triggered by the despair of a grown man who looks back and finds nothing worthwhile done during his life so far? Things get all the more complicated when the studious fiddler tells Pádraic that he will cut a finger out of his own hand every time that his former friend attempts to rekindle their relationship.
McDonagh's film scores highly on every aspect of the production, the costumes, the infusion of dialogue with bits and pieces of the era's jargon, the actors' attention to crucial details such as the appropriate pronunciation of words, the beseeming soundtrack, composed by Carter Burwell whom we know through films such as True Grit, Carol, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which blends Irish folk music with an atmospheric, low-key score that befits to the directorial tone as chosen by McDonagh who, once again, directs and signs the screenplay. The nihilistic undertones and pronounced cynicism that defined his previous works is mostly cushioned in The Banshees of Inisherin that "swings between the hilarious, the horrifying, and the heartbreaking in magnificent fashion" as Mark Kermode writes in the "Guardian" review of the film (for the full review click here). McDonagh, though already well-known to loyal cinema lovers, will win the attention of a more conservative audience this time, without that fact signifying anything negative about his latest work. There are funny moments -mainly illustrated in the well-crafted, witty dialogue parts-, moments of reflection for both the characters framing the story and us, the viewers, in a kind of invisible tug between the fictitious and the real, the characters and the audience. The director doesn't manipulate the viewer in order to elicit sympathy for his protagonists and I found myself feeling mystified about the essence of McDonagh's fictional creations after the finale. If McDonagh attempted, successfully or unsuccessfully depending on your perspective, to probe deep into the institutional racism as manifested in small-town America in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a film that helped to establish the English auteur's stature as one of the most promising new directors of his generations, in The Banshees of Inisherin he gears down his extravagant portrayal of violence and mayhem, investing on a universal theme such as the devastating consequences of ending an enduring friendship attachment. I think that it is the most mature and well-rounded of his works so far and a must-watch for all cinephiles.