Review: ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ (The Irish War of the Roses)

“There is no winning! Only degrees of losing!”

On a remote island off the west coast of Ireland in 1923, Pádraic (Colin Farrell) rises for the day, greets his sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon), and stops by the home of his good friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson) before going off to the pub. On any other day Colm would have met him there, but not this day… nor any day afterward. Colm has decided Pádraic isn’t worth his time and makes the choice not to waste any more of it. Undaunted, Pádraic continues as though it’s all temporary, but Colm is deathly serious. With only the constable’s odd son Dominic (Barry Keoghan) as a poor substitute friend and under the watchful eye of local meddler Mrs. McCormick (Sheila Flitton), what was once a pedestrian friendship evolves into something ridiculous and sinister.

The quote above the synopsis isn’t from Banshees; it’s from The War of the Roses, the 1989 Michael Douglas/ Kathleen Turner vehicle both directed by and co-starring Danny DeVito. It highlights an essential element in any relationship: whether all parties continue to remain invested in it, specifically when one is done and the other is unable to let go. The key difference here is Pádraic and Colm never slept with one another (that we know of) and everything is happening in a very different time and place. Similarities between the two are remarkable, including the arbitrary and blindsiding nature of a relationship’s end with nothing mutual about it. It’s a situation almost anyone can relate to, from “what did I do” and “how can I fix this” to the opposing “can’t you just go away” and “I shouldn’t have to explain it.” Whether you’re on team “feck off” or “get over yourselves,” is the why of it more interesting than how it ends up, or is it all about dealing with events beyond a person’s control?

The semi-isolated island setting and remote-village mentality play into the coming vitriol as the sounds of war distantly echo from the mainland off the coast. In contrast to modern day when every moment is scheduled for work, sleep, or entertainment to keep the mind and body occupied at all times, life on the island moves at a crawl; with limited prospects, companionship is at a premium. Viewers experience the expectations of friendship through the eyes of Pádraic and sudden loss from Colm’s apparent betrayal, an image that becomes unfocused as one learns how pathetic Pádraic can be. A dark turn erupts in the third act predictably turning love into hate (or else there would be no plot), and it is only in the final moments where the two-hour story feels worth one’s time or falls short, either depending upon the mind-set of the viewer. Putting it bluntly, it gets the point across while rubber-stamping the conclusion with ambiguity, a single shortfall in a sometimes-amusing tragedy-in-the-making.

Writer/director Martin McDonagh reunited his In Bruges cast for this project; Farrell is in top form as the love in his heart multiplies into resentment, seconded only by Gleeson’s slow realization of consequence and Condon’s calculated distancing as a positive example. In a part of the world infamous for signs and portents, everyone senses what’s coming, especially Flitton’s McCormick, a banshee in her own right — who may or may not be prodding the escalation along solely for her own entertainment. While the aforementioned War of the Roses spirals downward toward the very end, Banshees chooses to gloss over that finality by settling for the turning point. The momentary denouement that follows guts the final impact rather than embracing it, and because anything could happen even moments after the credits role, it feels like less than what it could be.

Ambiguous endings aren’t always the goal of award-contending films, but such fare appears more prevalent during nominations time than throughout the rest of the year. One could say the same about any number of horror films — a mid-credit scene hinting the defeated monster or killer could return — but end-of-year contenders like these are firmly one-and-done: what viewers get is all there will ever be. Aside from this stickler, the imagery and emotion of Banshees lingers behind the eyes with a healthy dose of personal reflection, and there’s something to be said for that as well.

The Banshees of Inisherin is rated R for language throughout, some violent content, brief graphic nudity, and giving one the finger.

Three skull recommendation out of four

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