As we prepare for the 29th Screen Actors Guild Awards, Backstage is breaking down this year’s film and television ensemble work for your consideration.
Main Cast: Kerry Condon, Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Barry Keoghan, Gary Lydon, Bríd Ní Neachtain, David Pearse, Pat Shortt
Casting by: Louise Kiely
Directed by: Martin McDonagh
Written by: Martin McDonagh
Distributed by: Searchlight Pictures
The comedy and horror of small-town life get the Martin McDonagh treatment in his latest film, which reunites him with his “In Bruges” stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. The people of Inisherin—a fictional island off the coast of Ireland—spend their days gossiping, drinking, and turning a blind eye to egregious sins in order to maintain an uneasy status quo. But their lives are upended when Colm Doherty (Gleeson) issues a straightforward declaration: He doesn’t like Pádraic Súilleabháin (Farrell) anymore. Their history compounds the bald cruelty of this statement; up until the day Colm refuses to speak to Pádraic, they had been friends who whiled away long afternoons together over pints.
Pádraic is devastated by the loss of his companion—and by the implication that he’s too dull and dim to be worthy of Colm’s time. His sister, Siobhan (Kerry Condon), tries to mitigate Pádraic’s hurt over the rapidly deteriorating relationship between the two men, one that includes the threat of self-harm.
Courtesy Searchlight Pictures
Farrell and Gleeson give ferocious performances as their characters become locked in a war neither wants to fight. The Oscar-winning Gleeson is majestic as an aging man who longs to leave his mark on the world and sees cutting the talkative, aimless Pádraic out of his life as the first step. Farrell uses his famous eyebrows to great effect, signaling a man who’s eagerly searching for the joke, even if it’s at his own expense—as long as it means he can still have his friend. His character’s panic at the prospect of losing something good in his life matches Colm’s determination to cut all ties, even if he’s occasionally moved by Pádraic’s resolve.
The beauty of “The Banshees of Inisherin” is how deftly McDonagh and his cast evoke the confines of a small town. As Siobhan, Condon turns in a memorable performance that makes her role seem larger than it actually is; it’s a testament to her power as an actor. She and Farrell share an instant rapport as siblings, complete with moments of both eye-rolling and tenderness. Barry Keoghan is a stealthy heartbreaker as Dominic Kearney, a hilarious, awkward local looking to escape his abusive father, Peadar (Gary Lydon). Preternaturally cheerful and not put off by even the cruelest of comments, he’s as eager for something positive in his life as Pádraic and Siobhan are.
But positivity is in short supply. Peadar drinks himself to sleep every night after beating or molesting his son—eventually threatening to thrash Pádraic for daring to call him out on his behavior publicly. Meanwhile, the Súilleabháin siblings are so stunted that they continue to share a room nearly a decade after the death of their parents. Nothing ever happens in a town like Inisherin until, suddenly, everything happens.
Though the villagers may seem like stock characters at first glance, the ensemble’s sharp performances infuse them with memorable weirdness. The pub regulars are sympathetic and gleeful as the boozy Greek chorus to Colm and Pádraic’s arguments; entertainment is thin in this town, so they’ll take what they can get. Likewise, the local priest (David Pearse) has no qualms about inserting himself into the drama, even as he chases Colm out of the confessional box for asking if he’s attracted to men. And the postmistress, Mrs. O’Riordan (Bríd Ní Neachtain), is so desperate for fresh gossip that she opens other people’s mail and demands new dirt from each customer who comes in.
There’s beauty in this community, but also an oppressive staleness. Colm and Pádraic’s bond comes into sharper focus the longer we spend with their neighbors, and both men’s plights begin to take on a tinge of tragedy. Colm makes it clear that they can’t be friends, but in a town like Inisherin, what else is there for them?
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