There is much to admire in Martin McDonagh's THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN, but I left the screening feeling that the movie was less than the sum of its parts. I think what McDonagh is trying to do is to show us the consequences of a mental health crisis on a friendship, and to make an allegory of seemingly pointless violence to the Irish Civil War and consequent Troubles. But while beautifully shot, acted, scored and designed - and full of real belly-laughs and poignant moments - this film felt rather too casual and clumsy in its use of allegory. Indeed, at a pivotal moment of violence, I felt it had jumped the shark. I was brought out of the film and its project, and only the heart-breaking performance from Barry Keoghan brought me back in.
The film starts in media res, with Padraic (Colin Farrell) going to call for his best friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson) for their daily pint, and being rejected with seemingly no explanation. The rest of the film covers the consequences of Colm's decision to unilaterally withdraw from what he describes as Padraic's dullness to focus on his music. But we know the music isn't the point because of what he then does to himself when Padraic fights for his love. In fact, the truth of the matter is hinted at in the confessional box at Church. Colm is in despair.
Maybe despair is the appropriate response to living on a windswept, bleak, gossipy island off the coast of Ireland in the midst of a civil war. But Colm's targeting of the warm-hearted Padraic seems cruel and unnecessary. This is probably McDonagh's point. Only Kerry Condon's literate and no-nonsense sister cuts through both men's escalatingly maddening conflict. Her honesty is a characteristic she shares with Padraic, who has no trouble in pointing out what's happening with the village idiot Dominic (Keoghan) who is actually the most sensitive and observant and heart-breaking character in the whole piece.
The movie is set on Mykonos, which brilliantly doubles for Western Ireland, and is shot beautifully by Ben Davis. Carter Burwell's score adds to the air of melancholy. The performances are uniformally strong with Keoghan and Condon arguably better than the already brilliant lead actors. I just feel that when we get to "that" moment, the movie never recovers, and the vast themes it raises are never properly interrogated. As with EMPIRE OF LIGHT, I felt that the theme of mental health was done a disservice, particularly in the character of Dominic.
In fact, I felt that a lot of the accusations thrown at Aronofsky's THE WHALE are better thrown against this film: that it's too stagey, too claustrophobic; too exploitative of physical extremity; picks up issues of mental health too lightly; is a weak film containing great performances. I felt THE WHALE was a perfect, deeply affecting whole, whereas this was to be admired but also frustrated by.
THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN is rated R and has a running time of 109 minutes. The film played Venice and Toronto 2022 and is playing the BFI London Film Festival. It will be released in the UK and USA on October 21st.