Writer-director Martin McDonagh and actors Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson reunite 14 years after In Bruges for The Banshees of Inisherin, an intimate portrait of a disintegrating friendship on a desolate Irish island in 1923. Black comedy, tender drama, an array of quirky characters, and top-notch performances by a stellar cast distinguish this lyrical, languorous film that's both fascinating and frustrating. Extras are slim, but excellent video and audio transfers add luster to Fox's Blu-ray presentation. Recommended.
A civil war raged in Ireland in 1923, but in The Banshees of Inisherin, that conflict pales in comparison to the not-so-civil battle between two stubborn men who live on a desolate island a few miles off the coast. Just as the warring factions on the mainland fight over the terms of Ireland's independence from Great Britain, Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) strives to break free from his lifelong friend Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) and gain a measure of independence for himself.
Colm's abrupt announcement that he wants nothing more to do with Pádraic knocks the mild-mannered, happy-go-lucky bachelor for a severe loop. At first, Colm offers the devastated Pádraic, who lives for his daily confab with his buddy over a pint of ale at the local pub, no explanation, but soon admits he doesn't have the time or inclination to engage in rambling, trivial chitchat anymore. As he approaches his twilight years, Colm seeks a measure of immortality and yearns for something more meaningful than a relationship that ultimately will be forgotten.
Colm tries to shift his focus to music, but Pádraic won't leave him alone. When he's not sulking and moping around his spunky sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon), Pádraic badgers Colm and begs for reconciliation. Tensions escalate as their split becomes increasingly acrimonious and provokes rash and violent actions that produce shocking consequences.
Writer-director Martin McDonagh reunites his In Bruges co-stars for this offbeat drama packed with comic zingers. Though more sedate and reflective than his other films, The Banshees of Inisherin brims with the eccentricities that make McDonagh's work so seductive and intriguing. The layered script weaves together numerous narrative threads and themes and McDonagh's lilting dialogue and visual artistry combine to create an alternately moving, jovial, and disturbing study of a motley group of characters who struggle to deal with the futility of life.
Stuck on a barren island and cut off from civilization due to the war, Colm, Pádraic, Siobhán, and their fellow residents must face up to their dead-end lives from which there is seemingly no escape. Pádraic cherishes his relationships with not only Colm and Siobhán, but also his trusted and faithful donkey and other pets because they're all he has. Losing any one of them cuts like a knife and eats away at his soul. That dull ache of loneliness coupled with the longing for human contact and connection in all its noble and disgusting forms courses through the film and motivates all the characters, for better or worse.
Style, substance, mood, and atmosphere abound in The Banshees of Inisherin, but what sporadically sabotages this elegant movie is its sluggish pacing. McDonagh has written a handful of very successful stage plays over the years and it's tough not to feel like The Banshees of Inisherin would work better in an intimate live venue, despite its palpable cinematic beauty. In between a handful of dramatic and stomach-churning jolts (McDonagh seems to relish the shock factor in his movies), there's not a lot of plot, and after a while, Pádraic's constant entreaties of reconciliation become as tiresome to us as they do to Colm. (Hopefully, viewers won't try to end them in the same grisly manner as Colm!) Nuance reigns, which makes Banshees one of those films that demands a second viewing so we can savor and scrutinize the myriad character beats...if we have the patience.
The narrative's lack of resolution also rankles. Some ambiguous endings resonate and fuel debate, but The Banshees of Inisherin merely peters out, leaving us with a sense of emptiness. Maybe that's the point, but from an emotional standpoint, the open ending is unsatisfying. Colm and Pádraic are colorful people, and spending two hours in their company should yield more fruit.
One thing that does yield considerable fruit is the enduring chemistry between Farrell and Gleeson. The high-voltage electricity they generated 14 years ago in In Bruges hasn't lost any wattage; on the contrary, like fine wine, it has aged gracefully. Both men fully inhabit their roles, which are nothing like their In Bruges counterparts, and their textured, understated portrayals carry the film. Terrific supporting performances from an array of little-known but established actors complement their work and lend The Banshees of Inisherin essential authenticity.
If you're looking for the shootouts, chases, banter, and bravado that made In Bruges so much fun, look elsewhere. The Banshees of Inisherin isn't exactly the antithesis of McDonagh's 2008 breakout film, but it's darn close. Ireland may be a hop, skip, and a jump away from Belgium geographically, but thematically and emotionally the two movies are oceans apart. That's not at all a bad thing, it's just worth noting. McDonagh, Farrell, and Gleeson have all grown older, and the more contemplative, introspective tone of The Banshees of Inisherin reflects that maturity. Though the trio's latest effort isn't nearly as entertaining and certainly won't appeal to as wide an audience, it's a well-made, well-acted, and thoughtful film that merits attention.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Banshees of Inisherin arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. A leaflet containing the Movies Anywhere digital copy code is tucked inside the front cover. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
A beautiful 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer showcases Ireland's lush scenery and rugged coastline and faithfully honors Ben Davis' sumptuous cinematography. Excellent contrast and clarity produce an image that brims with depth, fine detail, and splashes of brilliant color. Though a drab palette predominates, bursts of bold reds, verdant greens, crystal blues, and bright yellows perk up the frame, and a couple of breathtaking orange sunsets dazzle the eyes. Sharp close-ups highlight facial stubble, pores, and follicles, and some grisly imagery looks so realistic it will make you squirm. Deep blacks, crisp whites, and solid shadow delineation add essential contours, background elements are easy to discern, the ruddy flesh tones remain consistent throughout, and reflections are well defined. If you've never been to Ireland, this stunning transfer will inspire you to plan a visit.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track supplies nuanced sound with some distinct rear channel bleed. Are the Irish accents difficult to understand at times? Oh yes, but that comes with the territory. The good news is most of the dialogue is comprehendible, though you do need to concentrate if you're intent on catching as many words as possible. Some palpable stereo separation across the front speakers expands the soundscape and a wide dynamic scale handles all the highs and lows of both the lyrical score by Carter Burwell (who received an Oscar nomination for his music for McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and the violin interludes during the movie. Subtleties like the distant ocean surf and crackling flames nicely shade and punctuate the action and no distortion or surface noise mucks up the mix. The Banshees of Inisherin is a quiet movie, and though this solid track won't tax your system, it flexes its muscles when necessary.
Just a couple of supplements are included on the disc.
Featurette: "Creating The Banshees of Inisherin" (HD, 18 minutes) - In this better-than-average featurette, McDonagh discusses the creative process, reuniting Farrell and Gleeson, the importance of the film's supporting characters, and the joys of working with a donkey. He also links The Banshees of Inisherin to the American western and notes how delays prompted by Covid improved the movie. Farrell, Gleeson, and several other actors praise McDonagh's writing and their fellow castmates and brief segments on the dream-like location, costumes, cinematography, and production design are included as well. Plenty of behind-the-scenes footage and clips from the movie round out this worthwhile piece.
Deleted Scenes (HD, 5 minutes) - Only one of the five excised snippets supplies a notable character beat that would have better explained one of the movie's key plot elements. The other four "scenes" were well left on the cutting room floor.
If you're expecting In Bruges 2, you won't find it here. Writer-director Martin McDonagh reunites Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, but takes a far more sedate approach in The Banshees of Inisherin, which rises above languorous pacing and an open-ended plot to perceptively examine evolving relationships and perpetual loneliness on a desolate Irish isle. Quirky episodes and comic accents punctuate this bleak, provocative character study that's packed with substance, but never quite gels. Fox's Blu-ray presentation skimps on extras, but features stellar video and audio transfers that immerse us in the stark yet beautiful setting. Some will find it fascinating, others will be bored, but if you appreciate lyrical scripts, dimensional characters, and elegant filmmaking, The Banshees of Inisherin deserves your attention. Recommended.