'The Banshees of Inisherin' review: Colin Farrell is at his best Colin Farrell plays the sweet-souled Irish farmer in Martin McDonagh's film. One day, his friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson) abruptly refuses to join him for their usual afternoon pint down at the pub.


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A farmer gets dumped by his best friend in 'The Banshees of Inisherin'

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This is FRESH AIR. Fourteen years ago, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson played a pair of hitmen in writer-director Martin McDonagh's comic thriller "In Bruges." Now the three are together again in a new drama, "The Banshees Of Inisherin," which recently won Farrell the Best Actor award at the Venice International Film Festival. Our film critic Justin Chang has this review.

JUSTIN CHANG, BYLINE: Because we as a culture can mistakenly equate beauty with shallowness, it's taken time for some to realize what a great actor Colin Farrell is. He's always been a charismatic screen presence. Though, in recent years, he's revealed striking new emotional depths as a leading man in movies like "The Lobster" and this year's "After Yang." He's also proved willing to bury his good looks under mounds of prosthetics as the villainous Penguin in "The Batman." Farrell gives what may be his strongest performance yet in "The Banshees Of Inisherin." And one of the reasons he's so good in it is that he's playing a character who, perhaps like Farrell himself, is used to being underestimated. His character, Padraic, is a sweet-souled farmer who's spent his entire life on Inisherin, a small, fictional island off the coast of Ireland.

It's 1923, and life here is simple and repetitive, which is why it sends off small shockwaves one day when Colm, Padraic's older best friend, refuses to join him for their usual afternoon pint down at the pub. He soon learns that Colm, who's played by Brendan Gleeson, has decided to end their decadeslong friendship with nary a word of explanation. Some time later, Padraic confronts Colm outside the pub and tries to find out what's going on.


COLIN FARRELL: (As Padraic Suilleabhain) Now I'm sitting here next to you, and if you're going back inside, I'm following you inside. And if you're going home, I'm following you there, too. Now, if I've done something to you, just tell me what I've done to you. And if I said something to you, maybe I said something when I was drunk, and I've forgotten it. But I don't think I said something when I was drunk and I've forgotten it. But if I did, then tell me what it was. And I'll say sorry for that, too, Colm. (Vocalizing) With all me heart, I'll say sorry. Just stop running away from me like some fool of a moody schoolchild.

BRENDAN GLEESON: (As Colm Doherty) But you didn't say anything to me. And you didn't do anything to me.

FARRELL: (As Padraic Suilleabhain) Well, that's what I was thinking, like.

GLEESON: (As Colm Doherty) I just don't like you no more.

FARRELL: (As Padraic Suilleabhain) You do like me.

GLEESON: (As Colm Doherty) I don't.

FARRELL: (As Padraic Suilleabhain) But you liked me yesterday.

GLEESON: (As Colm Doherty) Oh, did I, yeah?

FARRELL: (As Padraic Suilleabhain) I thought you did.

CHANG: In time, the truth comes out. Colm finds Padraic dull and is tired of listening to the younger man's endless yammering especially since it keeps Colm from pursuing his passion, playing and composing violin music. Gleeson is terrific at showing you the tenderness beneath his outward stoicism. And what's heartbreaking is that Colm does still like Padraic, but he also knows that their friendship is draining him.

But Padraic can't accept Colm's decision. He tries cajoling his former friend, then pleading with him, then badgering him. At one point, Colm becomes so irritated that he threatens to physically harm himself if Padraic doesn't leave him alone. And since this is a movie written and directed by Martin McDonagh, the British Irish playwright and filmmaker with a taste for baroque comic violence, you know it isn't an idle threat.

This movie isn't as grisly as some of McDonagh's earlier stage and screen works. I still have fond memories of seeing his blood-soaked play "The Lieutenant Of Inishmore" years ago and somewhat less fond memories of his Oscar-winning film "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." Compared with that movie's wildly uneven mix of comedy and tragedy, "The Banshees Of Inisherin" is a quieter, gentler work, but its melancholy also cuts much deeper.

McDonagh opens the story with gorgeous, postcard-worthy images of Inisherin - all lush green landscapes and even a rainbow in the sky. But by the end, he has quashed any sweet or sentimental thoughts we might harbor toward this isolated community where people can be spiteful and small-minded and mock those who want to leave or strive for something better. Few people know this as well as Padraic's bookish sister, Siobhan, played by a terrific Kerry Condon. She loves her brother dearly, flaws and all. She's also one of the few people in town who can connect with Colm intellectually, and she understands why he wants to be left alone.

There are other colorful supporting characters, too - a nasty policeman, a doom-prophesying old woman, and an annoying young man played with marvelous pathos by Barry Keoghan. And I haven't even mentioned the animal cast. Two of the movie's most important characters are Colm's pet collie and Padraic's pet donkey, noble creatures who put the pettiness and stupidity of humans to shame.

There's something a little glib about that idea and also about the way "The Banshees Of Inisherin" uses the Irish Civil War, raging in the background of the story, as a counterpoint to the conflict between Padraic and Colm. But there's nothing glib about how these two characters are written. To watch Farrell and Gleeson rage against each other is to better understand what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. It's been a while since the movie extracted this much drama from the end of a beautiful friendship.

DAVIES: Justin Chang is film critic for the LA Times. On tomorrow's show, as the World Series approaches, we talk about the life of a hometown baseball broadcaster with Scott Franzke, radio voice of the Philadelphia Phillies. We'll discuss the series, changes in baseball, the intimacy of radio play-by-play, and what it's like to call a magical late-inning homer or a soul-crushing strikeout that breaks local fans' hearts. I hope you can join us.


DAVIES: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

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