Review: ‘The Banshees of Inisherin,’ starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson

October 21, 2022

by Carla Hay

Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell in “The Banshees of Inisherin” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

“The Banshees of Inisherin”

Directed by Martin McDonagh

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1923, on the fictional Irish island of Inisherin, the comedy/drama film “The Banshees of Inisherin” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class.

Culture Clash: Two men who have been best friends—a farmer in his 40s and a musician in his 60s—have their emotional stability tested when the musician abruptly ends the friendship and goes to extreme lengths to get his former friend to stop communicating with him.

Culture Audience: “The Banshees of Inisherin” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson; filmmaker Martin McDonagh; and movies that make darkly comedic and emotionally incisive commentaries about the highs and lows of human nature.

Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan in “The Banshees of Inisherin” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

“The Banshees of Inisherin” offers a bittersweet exploration of the heartbreak, loneliness, hope, and bizarre unpredictability of life with two estranged friends in a rural Irish town. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson give magnetic performances as two former friends who want very different things in existing together in this small, tight-knit and gossipy community. This comedy/drama movie reunites Farrell, Gleeson, and writer/director Martin McDonagh, who previously worked together on the 2008 assassin dramedy “In Bruges,” a very different movie from “The Banshees of Inisherin.”

McDonagh should be given a lot of credit for not wanting to copy “In Bruges” in this reteaming with the dynamic duo of Farrell and Gleeson, who played bickering hit men in the movie, which was set in Bruges, Belgium, in late 2000s. “In Bruges” had a madcap energy and some wacky plot developments that bordered on the absurd. “The Banshees of Inisherin” is often bleak, dreary and carries the emotional weight of characters wallowing in personal despair, but not having the words or resources to cope well with their personal problems. “The Banshees of Inisherin” had its world premiere at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival, where Farrell won the award for Best Actor, and McDonagh won the prize for Best Screenplay.

Set in 1925 on the fictional island of Inisherin (off of the coast of Ireland), “The Banshees of Inisherin” shows how the unraveling of a friendship spirals out of control into madness and tragedy. The movie is about more than some of the outlandish things that happen during the course of the story. It’s also about the mundanity of being stuck and stifled by a life of drudgery and limited options. It’s also about the need for people to feel loved and accepted by those whom they love and accept.

Viewers never get to see how the friendship developed between longtime Inisherin residents Pádraic Súilleabháin (played by Farrell) and Colm Doherty (played by Gleeson), because “The Banshees of Inisherin” begins on the day that Pádraic finds out that Colm not only wants to end the friendship, but Colm also wants Pádraic to stop communicating with him. Pádraic is a farmer in his 40s. Colm is a musician in his 60s. Both are bachelors with no children. Up until their estrangement, they were constant companions.

It’s unknown if Colm ever got married, but it’s made clear that Pádraic has never been married and is generally inexperienced and uninterested about a lot of things outside of Inisherin and his farm life. The movie doesn’t go into details about their sexualities or their love lives, but it’s implied that Colm and Pádraic have an older brother/younger brother type of relationship.

Somehow, their friendship became the center of their social lives. Colm lives alone, while Pádraic lives with his sister Siobhan Súilleabháin (played by Kerry Condon), who is a never-married bachelorette in her 40s with no children. Siobhan and Colm are the most important people in Pádraic’s life. Pádraic and Siobhan, whose parents died seven years earlier, are the only Súilleabháin family members who live on the island of Inisherin.

Pádraic and Colm each has a beloved pet that plays a pivotal role in the story. Padraic’s favorite animal on the farm is a miniature donkey named Jenny, whom he treats like a child. (Jenny has some adorable animal scenes in the movie.) Pádraic and Siobhan sometimes argue because Pádraic wants to let Jenny stay in their house, while Siobhan refuses and insists that Jenny stay in the area where the rest of the farm animals are kept. Colm’s only pet is his devoted male Border Collie, who doesn’t have a name in the movie but is Colm’s only constant companion in the story.

Pádraic is an uncomplicated person who places a high value on honesty and being nice to other people. He is the type of person who will say exactly what he’s thinking, even if it comes out in a way that might be awkward or not very tactful. Colm is much more complicated and someone who doesn’t always say what he’s thinking. Viewers will soon see that Colm has a dark side and how disturbed that dark side can be.

The unnamed rural town where Colm and Pádraic live has a very small population, so everyone in the community seems to know each other. (“The Banshees of Inisherin” was actually filmed in Inishmore and Achill Island in Ireland.) It’s the type of working-class town where no one can afford to have a car, so the usual form of vehicle transportation is a wheel cart.

The opening scene shows Pádraic walking to Colm’s house to meet him for their usual 2 p.m. visit to the local pub, which is called J.J. Devine Public House. Pádraic peeks in the front window and sees that Colm is sitting on a chair, smoking a cigarette, and looking lost in his thoughts. Pádraic taps on the window and calls out Colm’s name loud enough for Colm to hear, but Colm acts like he doesn’t hear anything and stares straight ahead.

Pádraic assumes that his friend will join him in the pub later, so he goes to the pub by himself. When Pádraic arrives, the pub’s owner/bartender Jonjo Devine (played by Pat Shortt) immediately asks Pádraic where Colm is, because Jonjo is so accustomed to seeing Pádraic and Colm together. “Are you rowing [arguing]?” Jonjo asks Pádraic, who says no. Pádraic tells Jonjo about Colm’s strange non-reaction when Pádraic went to visit him.

Colm is a no-show for their usual pub meet-up. A confused Pádraic goes home and tells Siobhan, who asks the same question: “Are you rowing?” Pádraic says no, and he’s not aware of anything that could’ve happened that would cause Colm to avoid him. Pádraic later goes back to the pub, where he sees Colm acting friendly and in good spirits with Jonjo and some of the customers.

When Colm sees Pádraic, the smile leaves Colm’s face, and Colm looks like he’s just seen someone whom he dislikes immensely. Pádraic, who is completely baffled, approaches Colm and asks him what’s going on and why Colm is acting this way. Pádraic also says that he’s sorry if he did anything to offend Colm. And that’s when Colm bluntly tells Pádraic that he doesn’t want to be Pádraic’s friend anymore because Colm thinks Pádraic is too dull and he’s become completely bored with their friendship. Colm also says that he doesn’t want Pádraic to talk to him anymore.

Colm, who is a fiddler, goes on to say that he’s getting old and wants to write great musical pieces before he dies. He cruelly tells Pádraic that Pádraic just drains time and energy from Colm, who wants to put that time and energy into writing music. Colm tells Pádraic that he’s “trying not to listen to the dull things you have to say.” Colm adds that he “has time not for aimless chatting but normal chatting.”

As an example of something that Pádraic does that Colm says is annoying, Colm mentions a recent conversation where Pádraic talked to Colm for two hours about the things he found in the feces of Pádraic’s donkey. Pádraic corrects Colm and said that the conversation about feces was actually about a pony, not a donkey. It’s an example of some of the dark comedy in this movie.

Pádraic is in shock and denial over this abrupt end to this friendship. The next day, he wakes up and sees on his calender that the day that Colm told him that their friendship was over also happened to be April Fool’s Day. Pádraic goes back to the pub and talks to Colm again, because he thinks that the conversation they had the night before was all a big April Fool’s Day joke. But to Pádraic’s dismay, Colm tells him in no uncertain terms that it’s not a joke.

And then, Colm makes this ominous threat: If Pádraic communicates with Colm again, Colm will cut off one of Colm’s own fingers every time it happens. It’s a threat that several people in the pub hear. And since this is a small town, word quickly spreads in the community about the alarming way that Colm wants to keep Pádraic out of Colm’s life.

Pádraic is naturally very distressed by this turn of events. He turns to Siobhan for emotional support, and she has to constantly deny it when Pádraic asks her if he’s dimwitted and dull. “You’re nice!” she finally yells in frustration. “Move on!” But Pádraic can’t move on. He’s still mystified over why Colm no longer wants to be his friend, and he wants them to be friends again.

Pádraic and Siobhan eventually come to the conclusion that Colm might be depressed. However, Pádraic being Pádraic, his nature is to want to be the one to help lift Colm out of Colm’s apparent depression. And the only way Pádraic knows how to do that is to talk to Colm.

While Pádraic is still reeling from being rejected by his best friend, a local guy in his 20s named Dominic Kearney (played by Barry Keoghan) has been tagging along with Pádraic very chance that he can get. Dominic, who appears to have learning disabilities, is a social outcast in this community. Padraic is the person in the community who is the kindest to Dominic. Just like Pádraic looks up to Colm like an older brother, Dominic seems to have a similar admiration for Pádraic.

Dominic also wants to spend a lot of time with Pádraic because Dominic comes from a very abusive home. It’s revealed fairly early on in the movie that Dominic’s widowed, alcoholic father Peadar Kearney (played by Gary Lydon) physically and emotionally abuses Dominic. The abuse goes beyond beatings and includes sexual abuse.

Peader happens to be the only police officer that this very small town has, so he gets away with these crimes. Peader also dislikes Pádraic and Siobhan, for past reasons that aren’t fully explained. However, it probably has a lot to do with the fact that Pádraic knows all about the abuse, and Dominic seems to want to be a part of the Súilleabháin more than Dominic wants to be part of his own family. The animosity between Peader and Pádraic increases when Peader and Colm start to become friendlier with each other after Colm ends his friendship with Pádraic.

Meanwhile, Dominic has a crush on Siobhan, but because he’s socially awkward, he doesn’t quite know how to express his feelings. Pádraic is too absorbed with trying to mend his friendship with Colm, so Pádraic doesn’t notice the significance of why Dominic asks him about Siobhan’s dating history and what kind of men Siobhan tends to like. Pádraic isn’t very helpful and gives vague answers. Just like her brother, Siobhan doesn’t have an active love life.

One evening, Dominic is invited over for dinner at Pádraic and Siobhan’s home. When Dominic asks Siobhan why she’s never been married, she gets angry and offended and tells him that it’s none of his business. She’s so insulted by this question, Siobhan tells Dominic to leave. Siobhan also doesn’t pick up on Dominic’s infatuation with her, so she doesn’t understand that Dominic asked that question as a way to flirt with her.

Some other characters in the movie have supporting roles as people who know a lot of the personal business of the people in this community. Mrs. McCormick (played by Sheila Flitton), an elderly woman who is an occasional visitor to the Súilleabháin home, looks and acts like someone who knows a lot of community secrets. Mrs. Reardon (played by Bríd Ní Neachtain), a middle-aged woman who runs the local convenience store/post office, is a very nosy gossip and doesn’t hestitate to open other people’s mail, in order to snoop. And then there’s the obligatory Catholic priest (played by David Pearse), a man in his late 20s or early 30s, who doesn’t have a name in the movie, but he hears people’s confessions.

The personal turmoil between Pádraic and Colm escalates when Pádraic just can’t accept that Colm wants Pádraic to leave Colm alone. Pádraic’s desperation is also affected when Siobhan gets a job offer to work at a library on the mainland of Ireland. The movie shows whether or not she takes that offer. It’s also shown if Colm follows through on his threat to cut off any of his own fingers after Pádraic continues to contact Colm.

“The Banshees of Inisherin” is not a big, flashy movie with elaborate scenes of drama. It’s a movie that authentically shows the quiet desperation that people feel but they suppress, in order not to be labeled as unstable, troublemakers or whiners. Pádraic shows a lot of emotional vulnerability that makes some members of the community more uncomfortable than Colm’s declaration of violent self-harm. It’s the movie’s way of showing how unnecessary violence is often more accepted in society as a way to cope with problems, rather than expressing emotional vulnerability.

Of course, in a movie about former friends who end up feuding with each other, there are some showdown scenes that are among the best in the movie. However, there are scenes where Pádraic or Colm is alone in a room, and those scenes are just as powerful. Farrell and Gleason handle their respective characters with a level of authenticity that resonates, even when some unhinged things start to happen. Condon and Keoghan are also quite good in their roles, although the characters of Siobhan and Dominic are ultimately overshadowed by what goes on between Pádraic and Colm.

McDonagh’s movies and plays often show human nature at its worst and its best. His movies and plays also depict aspects of life that can be depressing or joyful. It’s a dichotomous balance that isn’t easy to achieve, but McDonagh’s sharp talent in writing and directing, as well as his ability to make great decisions with a top-notch cast, result in “The Banshees of Inisherin” being a sometimes uncomfortable but definitely a memorable and emotionally moving ride.

Searchlight Pictures released “The Banshees of Inisherin” in select U.S. cinemas on October 21, 2022. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on December 13, 2022, and on Blu-ray and DVD on December 20, 2022.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Dreamland’

April 29, 2019

by Carla Hay

Margot Robbie and Finn Cole in "Dreamland"
Margot Robbie and Finn Cole in “Dreamland” (Photo by Ursula Coyote)

 

“Dreamland”

Directed by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 28, 2019.

The first thing that you might notice about the dramatic film “Dreamland” is that Margot Robbie plays a character that’s similar to bank robber Bonnie Parker of Bonnie & Clyde fame. The movie takes place in Texas in the 1930s, during the Dust Bowl drought era and when the Great Depression wreaked havoc on the U.S. economy. It’s also when the real-life Bonnie & Clyde became famous outlaws for their bank robberies and murders. But even though Robbie’s Allison Wells character in “Dreamland” is clearly inspired by the real-life Bonnie Parker, this movie isn’t really about Allison’s crime spree. It’s more about the effect that she has on a naïve young man in his late teens named Eugene Evans (played by Finn Cole), after she convinces him to let her hide out on his family farm.

“Dreamland,” which takes place in 1935, is narrated by Eugene’s younger sister Phoebe (played by Darby Camp), who tells the story in voiceover as an adult 20 years later. (Lola Kirke is the voice of the adult Phoebe.) The family has gone through some hard times, even before the Great Depression. Eugene’s biological father, Don Baker, mysteriously disappeared when Eugene was still a very young child, and Don is presumed dead. Eugene’s mother, Olivia (played by Kerry Condon), doesn’t really like to talk about Don. As a child, Eugene is haunted by the idea that his father isn’t really dead but is really still alive and living in Mexico. Eugene dreams of eventually finding Don and reuniting with him. But the sad look in Olivia’s eyes tells viewers that Eugene’s father has abandoned them, and if he’s still alive, he’s not coming back into their lives.

Olivia eventually remarries. Her second husband is a police officer named George “Buck” Evans (played by Travis Fimmel), who adopts Eugene. The couple’s daughter is Phoebe, who’s about 10 years younger than Eugene. She’s a curious and intelligent child who admires her older brother for his kindness but worries that people will take advantage of his gullible nature. Buck rises through the ranks of the police force, and he’s a deputy sheriff at the time that Allison commits the Guthrie Plains bank robbery that has resulted in the deaths of multiple people, including her lover/partner in crime Perry Montroy, a Clyde Barrow-like character. Perry (played by Garrett Hedlund) and the deadly bank robbery are seen in brief flashbacks.

When Eugene first encounters Allison, he’s found her hiding in a barn on the Evans family property. She’s wounded from a gunshot in her leg, and Eugene helps her remove the bullet. Her fugitive status is all over the news, and there’s a $10,000 reward to anyone who captures her. But Eugene is instantly smitten by Allison’s beauty and seductive charm.

Eugene doesn’t think Allison is as bad as the police say she is because Allison has told him that although she was involved in the bank robbery, she wasn’t involved in the death of the young girl who was an innocent bystander killed during the robbery. Allison tells Eugene that the police have inaccurately described the death as a murder, but Allison says the death happened accidentally when a stray bullet hit the girl.

Allison also offers Eugene $20,000 to hide her and to help her escape after she’s had some time to heal from her bullet wound. It’s a proposition that Eugene accepts with not much hesitation because he and his stepfather Buck don’t really get along—and more importantly to Eugene, he starts to think that he and Allison can run away together to Mexico, where he can reunite with his father, and they can all live happily ever after.

Eugene, who’s in charge of taking care of the family farm, knows it won’t be that hard to hide Allison since Buck is a workaholic who doesn’t spend much time at home anyway. And besides, no one would suspect that Allison would be hiding out at the home of one of the law-enforcement officers tasked with finding her. It isn’t long before Eugene takes another big risk for Allison—he breaks into the police station at night, steals evidence about the robbery, and burns it. When a police officer at the station sees Eugene in the office where the evidence is, Eugene hurriedly makes up a lie and says that he’s there to get police files for Buck.

There’s a close call when inquisitive Phoebe almost finds Allison in the barn, but Eugene is able to steer her away just in time. But that tactic can only work for so long. Phoebe finds out about Eugene’s secret, but he convinces her not to tell anyone. Buck’s suspicions about Eugene are also raised when Buck gets blamed for the missing evidence, and he finds out about Eugene’s late-night visit to the police station.

Amid all of this family tension, a terrible dust storm hits the area, causing destruction on what became known as Black Sunday. The cinematography of “Dreamland” (from cinematographer Lyle Vincent) is one of the best things about the movie, and the visuals during this storm are especially stunning.

“Dreamland” director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte skillfully uses techniques that show the subtle artistry of someone who can tell a story with what you don’t see on camera as much as what you do see. For example, a pivotal seduction scene with Allison and the virginal Eugene shows that Allison and Eugene are talking in an intimate moment where Eugene is doubting that he made the right decision to help Allison, and he’s almost afraid to touch her. She can be heard but not seen for much of the scene, as the camera lingers on Eugene to show the effect that she is having on him. Some directors would have made the obvious choice to focus the camera on Robbie’s beauty, but the scene demonstrates how dialogue can be more powerful in seduction than someone’s physical appearance.

Robbie, who is one of the producers of “Dreamland,” does a very good job of playing the morally ambiguous Allison, but she doesn’t have as much screen time in the movie as people might think she does. Allison and Eugene don’t spend a lot of time together on screen. It’s a testament to the power of Allison’s manipulation, because Eugene takes a lot of risks for Allison without the reward of being with her in a normal, happy romance that he wants them to have. Eugene is the heart and soul of the movie, and Cole convincingly plays him not as a fool but as someone who thinks doing anything for true love will justify whatever it takes to get it.

The pacing in “Dreamland” is a little slow in some areas, but the third act of the movie makes up for it, as the hunt for Allison takes an intense turn where hard choices are made and people’s true characters are put to the test. But just to be clear: Most of “Dreamland” isn’t about chase scenes between cops and robbers. It’s about what can happen when people steal things more valuable than money—hearts and trust.

UPDATE: Paramount Pictures will release “Dreamland” in select U.S. cinemas on November 13, 2020, and on digital and VOD on November 17, 2020. The movie’s release date on Blu-ray and DVD is January 19, 2021.

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