THE BANSHEES OF INISHERINIn Irish folklore, banshees are spirits that herald a coming death. In the case of Martin McDonagh’s new film THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN, they may not be warning of coming death… instead the death of friendship.

The film is set during the Irish Civil War in 1923. The parallel between that and the conflict between friends depicted in the film feels obvious, but still satisfying. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson seem to have been friends for quite some time, meeting at the pub every day for a pint. Early on, Gleeson’s Colm tells Farrell’s Padraig that he doesn’t want to be friends anymore. Padraig is too dull for Colm, and he doesn’t want to waste his limited time on Earth on such a boring person. Padraig is baffled and keeps trying to find out what is really wrong. That’s when Colm threatens to do something drastic to himself. It would severely limit is abilities as a violinist/songwriter/teacher. Padraig is kind of dim about it and pushes until the threat becomes real. That is just part of what’s going on in this thoroughly well-crafted movie.

It explores depression, sadness and isolation as felt by Colm. It also explores loneliness as experienced by Padraig. So that sounds like a downer way to spend two hours. But the examination of these serious topics is sprinkled with a lot of humor and some genuine laugh out loud moments. Most of those come at Padraig’s expense as he encounters obstacles trying to find out what he did to his friend to be cast aside in such a way.

The movie makes you think about other questions. The one that’s been rolling around in my head is what will we be remembered for? Padraig is a nice guy, a fact everyone agrees on. Colm is a curmudgeon who believes that niceness is not remembered, but great art is. So, is it more important to be nice or to be a great artist? Padraig believes in nice. Colm believes no one will remember that but will remember his music even 200 years from now. And that is what matters. It makes you think about whether you even want to be remembered.

The film is loaded with great, memorable performances. Farrell and Gleeson have an easy chemistry, one that was also on display in another McDonagh movie, IN BRUGES. Farrell’s eyebrows may deserve a best supporting actor nomination. They dance on his forehead and express as much emotion as any other part of his face. Kerry Condon as Padraig’s stifled sister and Barry Keoghan as the town’s dimwit are both fantastic. The score by Carter Burwell is excellent and sprinkled with Irish fold melodies. Ben Davis’ cinematography takes full advantage of the lush, rocky, and captivating landscapes.

McDonagh also wrote the screenplay, and it is just wonderful. The language, the jokes, and what is unspoken really capture the mood I believe he is going for. I was not a huge fan of THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI. I don’t think McDonagh, a native of Ireland, really grasped the racial politics that he was trying to represent. But here he is in his element and his voice has never been clearer or stronger.

There are parts of the movie that are not for the squeamish. I got past that and I’m glad I did. THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN is a funny, heartfelt and touching story and should be remembered exactly because it is great art, and not necessarily nice.

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