Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan
Written by Martin McDonagh
Directed by Martin McDonagh
Produced by Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin and Martin McDonagh
For at least the third time in recent months, yet another high-profile, oddly-hyped and horribly over-hyped film from an over-confident writer-director completely squanders its cast, its budget, its overall production and all of its potential with a destructive, depressing story, plot and script; a lack of a clear tone and direction; wayward and awkward scenes that disturb instead of entertain; and a bevy of thoroughly unlikeable characters who are so repulsive, the viewer ends up not caring about the characters or the movie in general. The latest film in this unfortunate parade of film failures is the disappointing, dour, dark and depressing “The Banshees of Inisherin,” a movie so confused by what it should and could be, it just ends up never getting there, or anywhere.
“Banshees” makes all of the same dire, unfortunate and ultimately disappointing mistakes that appeared in the equally-disappointing and downer “Amsterdam” and “Tar.” Forget the hype, forget whatever you’ve heard–all three of these confused movies end up collapsing amid their ridiculous, bizarre excesses of negativity, crudity, sourness, dourness, darkness and just general disturbing, nearly-unwatchable insanity.
The problems with “Banshees” start with the film’s basic story and characters. And if a film ultimately ends up with a disappointing, disjointed and disturbing story and a cast of completely unlikeable characters, then what is there to retain viewer interest, and why should the viewer even care what happens? In the case of “Banshees,” well, not much, for both questions.
“Banshees” tells the bleak story of bleak farmer Padraic Suilleabhain–well-played by an impressively in-control and focused Colin Farrell– who lives a bleak existence on a the bleak fictional island of Inisherin in Ireland. One day, out of the clear blue sky, Padraic’s best friend, Colm Doherty, also well-played by Brendan Gleeson, tells Padraic that he doesn’t want to be friends anymore–and that he doesn’t even want to speak to Padraic. Well, unfortunately this happens in life–friendships abruptly end or fade or shatter or diminish–to all of us, for various, often-complicated reasons, and the issue is always ripe for examination and analysis in a filmic manner.
And, at first, initially, for what is actually an enjoyable, rollicking, actually funny and actually entertaining first act, this appears to be what “Banshees” is and will be: a humorous, light-hearted, intelligent study of the complexities, irregularities, quirks, idiocies, oddities and misunderstandings that lead to the dissolution of friendships. And if the film had actually stuck to this theme, and if the film had stuck to the funny tone and level of this first act, “Banshees” could have been a successful, fun and interesting movie.
However, once again out of the clear blue sky, the story and the movie take a drastic, bizarro and, again, thoroughly destructive turn with an alarming–and unnecessary and unfortunate–turn that, simply, ruins the entire project: Colm tells Padraic that if Padraic doesn’t stop talking to him, Colm will start cutting off his fingers, one at a time, each time Padraic dares to talk to his former friend about the sudden end to their friendship. Really. No, really, this is not a joke. And this stomach-churning, disgusting and psycho story development isn’t played as a joke in the movie. Colm really means it–and he actually does what he threatens to do. Yes, a grown man–who, by the way, plays the violin and cherishes playing the violin more than just about anything–starts chopping off his fingers simply because his former best friend wants to talk to him about the end of their friendship.
This unfortunate plot point doesn’t register on any tonal level, because writer-director Martin McDonagh can’t decide what type of movie he is presenting. After Colm grossly and insanely starts cutting off his fingers, the movie is certainly not funny, interesting or entertaining on any level. It’s certainly not the comedy-drama it could have been and should have been. But the movie is also not a horror movie–because McDonagh doesn’t change the tone or mood clearly to horror on a traditional horror level. Even though the plot is horrific, the movie is not presented as a horror movie. McDonagh also doesn’t wholly or clearly change the tone to psychological drama, psychological thriller, suspense thriller or Shakespearean tragedy–all of which you’d expect, considering the sudden change in the story. The problem is that McDonagh doesn’t quite know how or what to clearly do with this bizarre psycho tale he’s concocted. The tone, direction, mood and atmosphere all drift and wander aimlessly once main character Colm starts cutting off the only fingers that he has on his body.
And, equally bizarrely and destructively, Padraic also starts to go completely insane. In yet another unfortunate and wayward plot point, Padraic suddenly decides he’s going to murder his best friend. And he attempts to do just that, as he sets Colm’s house on fire–while Colm is inside. And, yet again bizarrely, Padraic had warned Colm that he would murder him, and how he’d do it, and when he’d do it. And Colm just sits there in his house–as Padraic sets it on fire. Say what? What on earth? Really?
Does any of this make any sense to you? No? That’s just fine, because none of this makes any sense in the movie, either.
Yes, one could say that “Banshees” is intended, or was hoping to be intended, as a study, or attempted study, perhaps, in insanity, in mental illness, in pure psychological and mental breakdowns and in the resulting domino effects of such cognitive diminishments.
However, again, the movie’s dialogue, characterizations, plot, story, tone and messages just never succeed in any of these areas. Again, McDonagh lacks the overall ability to bring these disperate story aspects together in a cohesive way that would effectively convey any of these themes. The overall script and direction are just too scattershot, confusing and all-over-the-place to effectively succeed with any of these themes, morals, points and messages.
Thus, “Banshees” ends up just falling apart as the darkness and dourness envelop the characters, the island–and the movie.
Besides Colm losing his mind and cutting off his fingers, and besides Padraic losing his mind and deciding to murder his former best friend, others on the island start deteriorating, too. Padraic’s somewhat-likeable sister, Siobhan, well-played by Kerry Condon, abruptly decides to leave the island, leaving Padraic alone and depressed. Padraic’s adorable miniature donkey, Jenny, abruptly dies–after she chokes on one of Colm’s discarded fingers–really. And a local youth, Dominic, well-played by Barry Keoghan, abruptly ends up dead and drowned in a local body of water–just out of nowhere, with no clear explanation.
None of this is fun, funny, interesting or entertaining. None of this makes any sense. And none of this is clever or smart filmmaking. It’s just disgusting, distressing and depressing.
The four lead actors do a great job with what they have, but when the movie ends up not quite giving them enough to establish their characters on a likeable or intelligent level, well, one is left to admire their acting, but not the overall film that surrounds that acting.
McDonagh, just like with the writer-directors of “Amsterdam” and “Tar,” needed additional, better, more seasoned, more grounded, sane and rational scriptwriters, assistant directors and producers to act as a system of checks and balances on their basic filmmaking. But without those needed checks and balances, these films simply ended up running amok and wasting their potential.
The best advice regarding “The Banshees of Inisherin” is to disregard the cries of these banshees, ignore them, don’t respond to them, and let their cries softly fade away into that filmic good night.