I'm breaking my rules a little in that I missed The Banshees of Inisherin in theaters and caught it on streaming two months later, but I'm reviewing it anyway as the film is becoming an awards season frontrunner. So here goes.
Taking place on the titular – and fictitious – Irish island in 1923, The Banshees of Inisherin opens with a scene in which Colm (Brendan Gleeson) abruptly informs his lifelong friend and pub mate Padraic (Colin Farrell) that he no longer wants to be pals and in fact no longer wants to even speak to him. Moreover, he warns, from now on Colm will cut off one of his own fingers every time Padraic dares to engage in small talk with him. Padraic, naturally, is crushed and confused – what did he do wrong? Nothing, it turns out: he's just boring, and Colm is tired of wasting time on idle conversation when he could be composing Irish folk tunes on his fiddle.
I really enjoyed the first half of this film as a deadpan, Waiting for Godot-esque comedy. But then the story took a turn and I was reminded that this is a work by writer/director Martin McDonagh, the maker of violent cult films like In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. I should not have been surprised by the direction Inisherin ultimately takes, but I was a little disappointed to see the wistful existentialism give way to bloody black comedy. McDonagh certainly knows what he's doing, so your reaction may vary.
Still and all, the film is beautifully shot on location, the dialogue is hilarious, and the cast – including Kerry Condon as Padraic's fed-up sister and Barry Geoghan as a simple-minded islander – is first-class. Above all it's Farrell, with his quiet yet note-perfect reactions, who truly stands out. Although Inisherin's friends-turned-foes absurdity is clearly a metaphor for the 1922-1923 Irish Civil War raging across the water from our protagonists, I also interpreted the film as a parable for our social media age, where our guilt over wasting so much time online is compounded by our friends – or "friends" – wearing us out with their blather, driving us to tire of them and even loathe them. Perhaps McDonagh is saying that this is the way it's always been: that we hate the people who remind us too much of ourselves.