Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, who appeared together in In Bruges (2008), reunite in The Banshees of Inisherin, the story of two former friends living on a fictional island off the coast of Ireland.
Martin McDonagh, who directed In Bruges, locates Banshees' characters on an island where the residents seem to regard the mainland as if it were another world. It is: Engulfed by civil war, Ireland feels more than a boat ride away from isolated Inisherin.
A simple conceit drives the story. Once best friends, Gleeson's Colm suddenly and without explanation stops talking to Farrell's Padraic. We suspect that Padraic committed some terrible slight. He must have done something.
That's not the case. Colm refuses to acknowledge Padraic's existence for no apparent reason at all.
Faced with loneliness and beset by consternation, Padraic won't take "no" for an answer. Again and again, he presses Colm to explain his sudden change of heart.
Eventually, Colm, an obstinate rock of a man, tells Padraic’s sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon) that his former pal, is just too dull for sustained companionship.
Siobhan counters. Padraic always has been dull so why shun the poor fellow now?
Farrell excels as the good-hearted and insistently sincere Padraic, a guy whose social milieu consists of his farm and animals, most notably a pet donkey called Jenny.
Padraic gives Jenny access to the cottage he shares with his sister, which -- not unexpectedly -- annoys her. Siobhan yearns for better things and bristles under the weight of her island confinement.
Later, we learn that Colm -- despite his stoicism and silent smoking -- is fighting a losing battle. Facing his own mortality, he realizes that he has accomplished nothing. He wants to devote the rest of his life to writing music for the fiddle he plays with a few other musicians at the town pub, the only place on Inisherin that accommodates any public gatherings.
With the clock ticking, Colm has no time for distractions.
At first, McDonagh seems to have made another movie steeped in colorful turns of phrase and Irish rue. But hints of darkness soon cast a bit of a pall over the proceedings.
The local policeman (Gary Lydon) sadistically abuses his son Dominic (Barry Keoghan). An old woman (Sheila Flitton) makes pronouncements of doom.
The supporting actors excel, although Condon -- as the short-tempered, literate, and essentially decent Siobhan -- proves exceptional. Siobhan realizes that sustained isolation leads to unbearable desperation.
The landscapes of Inisherin are stark, the ocean forbidding, and just about every aspect of life feels irrevocably meager.
When the movie takes its darkest turns, we realize that McDonagh has serious intentions. In a fit of understated rage, an increasingly frustrated Colm pledges that every time Padraic talks to him, Colm will chop off one of his own fingers.
I won't tell you how the story arrives at its chastening conclusion but McDonagh takes us to places we hardly could have anticipated when the movie began.
Fine performances and McDonagh's commitment to the odd edges of his material enables The Banshees of Inisherin to amuse, shock, and get under the skin, a bitter Irish chill of a movie.
But more than an expression of Irish parochialism, this quasi-folk tale shows how tragic results can spring from something that borders on the trivial, irreparably altering the way life stumbles onward when something happens that can’t be made right.