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The Banshees of Inisherin

Asking Brendan Gleeson if he’s sure he didn’t play Hagrid in Harry Potter. (It was Robbie Coltrane.)

Synopsis:  A friendship between two men in 1920’s Ireland is ruptured. (Streaming on HBO Max and Amazon as of January 2023.)

It’s quite a hat trick for a movie to have fine direction and laudable performances, and yet manage to be a poor film. The Banshees of Inisherin brings together the team from the dark classic In Bruges: director Martin McDonough and actors Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. What results is unsettling, but not moving. And since the plot lands with a thud, not even the mordant humor here and there can give it a boost.

There’s a civil war going on in Ireland in 1923, but Padriac (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson) are removed from it; they have their own livings to eke out in rural Ireland. The movie has a play-ish feeling, so all of the outdoor scenes with the coast as a backdrop are welcome.  Once the dialog started rolling along, I was reminded of another film set in Ireland, Wild Mountain Thyme, that also disappointed.

Padriac and Colm are longtime best friends who while away the late afternoons at the lone pub. Padriac works his small farm and Colm seems to just sit on his arse most of the time. Though he does take the time to walk about with his lovely sheepdog. The film begins with Colm withdrawing his friendship from Padriac. Colm refuses to speak to his former bff and Padriac is confounded. The sparse population, each in turn, asks Padriac if they had been rowing.

Confronted by Padriac, Colm coldly tells him that he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life listening to a boring man’s aimless chatter. Ouch. And, hey! Aimless chatter is the best! Instead, Colm announces that he wants to play the fiddle and compose music.

Padriac heads back to his cottage and tells his sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon) of his predicament and she commiserates. She’s quietly desperate herself: feeling isolated and longing for meaningful work. She’s a bright and lively woman who put me in mind of the main character in Brooklyn , another Irish woman stranded in rural Ireland.

OIP (2)
In the days before the advent of Bono & U2, Ireland was very bleak indeed.

Among the neighbors, there is a local dimwit, Dominic (Barry Keoghan), who hangs about trying to bum cigarettes near the pub.  Padriac wonders if he’ll have to resort to Dominic as a friend. Dominic gives the impression that he has been spending his life actively avoiding acquiring knowledge of any kind.  I did feel sorry for him though because his dad, the local constable, beats him. At one point, kindly Siobhan and Padriac take him in, but he is horny AF, and ruins things by brusquely coming on to Siobhan.

So, yeah, everything is a downer. Basically, everything that Padriac and Colm choose to do is exactly the opposite of what a good therapist would suggest as healthy choices…

First of all, while Colm may rightly feel that all his time spent talking with Padriac at the pub is a waste of time, refusing to speak to him at all is not only rude, but mentally cruel. Maybe establish some boundaries, like only head to the pub after some hours put-in composing.

Siobhan even pleads with Colm that what he is doing to her brother isn’t “nice.” When Colm replies that her brother is dull, she responds that so is he and, really, everyone in town.

And as for Colm? We can do a bit of armchair psychologizing and determine that perhaps he needs to branch out a bit. Maybe he could conversate with one of the other ten people in town. Or a hobby besides pubbing?

And Padriac is very fond of his donkey, Jenny. He could set to grooming her more often. He’d have to do it outside though, because Siobhan puts her foot down that she won’t be having the barn animals in the cottage. I thought this was a little crazy, because I would pay good money to share a weekend cottage with a donkey or a pony. Not a goat though, because they can be really pushy.

The above are just little changes that the two former friends could make to respect each other’s boundaries and feelings. Then the screenwriter/director inflicts a creepy choice on the audience…

Okay, so Padriac can’t so much as say ‘Hallo, how are you?’ without Colm being offended to biblical proportions. Between gritted teeth, Colm tells Padriac that if he ever says one more word to him, he’ll cut off one of his own fingers. And He’ll keep slicing off digits if Colm keeps addressing him at all. You might wonder: Does he mutilate himself? All I can say, is that if bloodied digits make you woozy, this is not the movie for you.

O! And I forgot to mention the crone. There is an ancient neighbor who manages to shamble to Padriac and Siobhan’s cottage from time to time. She sits by their fire, sucking on a pipe and recounting morbid stories. Sometimes she pops up in a field to stare judgmentally at someone or stands at the water’s edge, seemingly beckoning a person to drown him/herself. I was starting to wonder if it was the potato famines that sent many Irish abroad or the spirit-crushing presence of banshees like this ghoulish creature.

The poor inhabitants of the make-believe land of Inisherin; the whole place seems incompatible with happiness.  If it wasn’t back in the 1920’s, miserable Padriac and Colm could have hopped on the Internet for conflict resolution advice. I can tell you one thing for sure, Brendan Gleeson’s Colm would’ve had a tough time not coming out as the a-hole in “Am I the A**hole?” Meanwhile, Colin Farrell could rustle up some social media acquaintances. Wait…what am I thinking? The Banshees of Inisherin‘s screenwriter would never be so kind to his characters as to give them WiFi access. Fecker!

Movie Loon’s Movie Review Shortcut:

Grade:  C-

Cut to the Chase:  Good performances, ridiculous plot.

Humor Highlight:  The local priest refuses to absolve a man of his sins at confession because he won’t explain himself.

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