Movies frequently explore what it feels like to be dumped by a romantic partner, but they much less often explore what it feels like when a platonic friendship ends. But the feelings mirror each other--pain, bewilderment, and wondering why someone you always thought cared about you dislikes you. Writer/director Martin McDonagh's new film examines the fallout after the end of a friendship.
Set in a small island off the coast of Ireland in 1923, the farmer Padraic (Colin Farrell) stops by the local pub to meet his friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson) for a drink as he does every afternoon. But on this day, Colm abruptly announces that he no longer wants to speak to Padraic. There was no act of betrayal on Padraic's part. When pressed for an explanation, Colm can offer none other than he finds Padraic dull and he wants to focus more on his music.
The hurt Padraic keeps pressing the issue, which prompts Colm to issue an ultimatum: if Padraic continues speaking to him, Colm will start cutting off his fingers with garden shears.
The movie avoids taking sides with either character. Padraic does come off as a bit whiny, needy, and oblivious. Colm comes off as harsh and arrogant. As Padraic's sister, Siobhan (Kerry Condon), points out when Colm tells her he finds her brother boring, "You're ALL fecking boring."
Farrell and Gleeson both give terrific performances (as does Condon in the sister role). I don't laugh out loud often in theaters, but one scene where a lie Farrell tells spectacularly backfires made me do so. McDonagh's script also has enough nuance to treat a dim supporting character (Barry Keoghan) with dignity and poignancy when a lesser film would relegate him to cheap comic relief.
However, the film's central gimmick of Colm threatening to chop off fingers every time Padraic speaks to him feels too artificial. It clearly is a storytelling gimmick/device, but the problem is it also feels like one. It does not feel like anything a human being would actually do. And because it feels artificial, it keeps viewers at arm's length emotionally.
McDonagh's last film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, was my favorite film of 2017. However, I wasn't as enamored with McDonagh's In Bruges as others were (it's become a cult favorite for many). The Banshees of Inisherin falls in between those two films for me.