Director: Martin McDonagh
Writers: Martin McDonagh
Stars: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon
McDonagh sits atop the throne for modern kings of dark comedy. Whereas others mistake callousness for humor, McDonagh has always understood that it is in the genuine emotion of character that makes hilarity shine.
His style emboldens the people at the center of his stories making them feel uniquely earnest and heartfelt even if their words or actions are sour. It allows his stories to effortlessly dance through emotional menageries.
Watching his films a second time can give you a completely different reaction than the first as the cadence of his writing suddenly grows into a palpable emotional reaction. This can also be in large part a compliment to the stellar performances that often frame his stories. Colin Farrell designs the hapless Padraic as a charismatic centerpiece for the story’s central thesis while Gleeson deftly navigates the moral quandaries of an existential crisis that must carry the burden of a life left unfulfilled.
Banshees is a film that gives back to its audience the more they invest in it. At a passing glance, the 1920s setting allows for the ambiguous civil war across the water to be an analogous reflection of the inner turmoil of our two primary characters, and while that is indeed intentional, it’s certainly not the only idea McDonagh has brewing in his delicate script. In fact, was the film to have a flaw, it may be that this obvious comparison feels half-baked.
Upon further reflection, it seems that Banshees is a film about true loneliness bred from the isolation of the character. In an early scene, Padraic’s sister asks if he’s ever been lonely before to which he responds, ‘what the hell is a matter with people?’ To Padraic at this early stage in the story, loneliness is too abstract a concept. Yet his best friend Colm who has divorced himself from Padraic in the inciting action has seemingly endured loneliness to try to reclaim a sense of his identity.
How much of us is stripped away when we neglect our heart’s desires and instead succumb to a simple life, and how much are we willing to risk to be remembered—to be admired or controversial instead of lonely—in life beyond? The answer depends on who you ask. There are Colm’s of the world who will watch this film with immense sadness. There are Padraics of the world who may not get it. And there is Siobhan of the world who may understand it but find it a painful meditation that need not be explored.
There’s one other character pervading the story who seems the aptest for our analysis here, and that is Dominic, the island fool. Whereas other characters are often guessing as to the sincerity of the people they interact with, Dominic is a bizarre twist on the voice of reason. His analysis is often correct despite his chaotic turns of phrase that make people write him off as a creep. What begins as a fodder simpleton for Banshees to use lightly ends in a tragic turn that unveils the gnawing truths of the island.
Banshees is a complex film weaving its characters in delightful threads and tapestries that turn and twist over one another in ways that feel painful and comical all at once. It’s a film about people who say what they mean and commit harshly to what they say. It’s a film that looks kindly on animals and cruelly on men as they bemoan the inevitable passing of time as existence passes onward in a sea of untamed misery.
Most of all, it’s one of the finest scripts of the year as it clings to its subtext in beautiful ways leaving behind trails of complex sadness that connects the audience to its characters in unexpected ways. 9.5/10