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The Year of Colin Farrell peaks with ‘Banshees of Inisherin'

by TYLER WILSON/Coeur Voice Contributor
| November 9, 2022 1:00 AM

A few weeks ago, this column devoted space to appreciate the steady resume of Colin Farrell, an actor who was sold early on in his career as an action star/leading man before taking on riskier projects and becoming one the best character actors working today.

In 2022, Farrell’s already shown fantastic range, switching between the quietly haunting science-fiction drama “After Yang” to a wild, prosthetic-infused heel turn in “The Batman.” Now he reteams with his “In Bruges” writer/director Martin McDonagh and co-star Brendan Gleeson for “The Banshees of Inisherin,” and Farrell delivers one of the most nuanced and memorable performances of his career.

A much more subtle exercise in mixing humor with grim drama compared to McDonagh’s last movie (the Oscar-winning-but-ultimately divisive “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) “The Banshees of Inisherin” explores the trenches of a seemingly simple premise: Set on a remote island off the coast of Ireland, circa 1923, a pair of lifelong friends have a bewildering falling out. The men drank together at the town pub every night… until one day, Colm (Gleeson) abruptly tells Pádraic (Farrell) that he just doesn’t like him anymore.

Pádraic can’t wrap his head around the snub, and even after some pestering, Colm only admits that his former friend is too dull.

“Banshees” largely follows Pádraic in the ensuing conflict, and Farrell’s command of the nice-if-somewhat-simple-minded man brings a hefty allowance of big laughs and wrenching heartbreak. Pádraic feels betrayed, but he seems too warmhearted to even raise his voice about it… well, at least without the assistance of a pint or three.

Aside from Farrell and Gleeson’s reliably compelling work, “Banshees” also follows the growing turmoil inside Pádraic’s kind-but-acerbic sister, Siobhán (played by Kerry Condon), a well-read homemaker who knows she deserves more than the life she endures on the island. As Colm’s sudden desire for “something more” strains on Pádraic, it’s Siobhán who has the chance for something more meaningful on the mainland (though the explosions and gunshots of the Irish Civil War holds the island’s residents in a peaceful sort of purgatory.

With gorgeous cinematography from Ben Davis and an excellent score from Carter Burwell, “Banshees of Inisherin” qualifies technically as McDonagh’s strongest film work to date and the most visually distinguished from his career as a playwright. McDonagh’s screenplay, too, is the best of his four films, applying his ear for layered, clever dialogue without tripping into broad thematic virtue-signaling (a problem with “Three Billboards” especially, even with its A-caliber performances).

“Banshees of Inisherin,” despite its early, consistent humor, turns into something far more mournful, and McDonagh provides an ending that will incite different interpretations. Farrell, Gleeson and Condon should all be easy fill-ins on Oscar ballots this season, and, for Farrell, a win would only confirm what has been apparent for a while now: He’s one of the best actors working today. If nothing else, he and Condon should win special prizes for the way they “Irish curse” throughout “The Banshees of Inisherin.” It’s a (expletive deleted) joy.

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Tyler Wilson is film critic and member of the International Press Academy. He has been writing about movies since 2000, including a regular column in The Press since 2006. He can be reached at twilson@cdapress.com.

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