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Movie Review: 'The Banshees of Inisherin'

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The dark new comedy "The Banshees of Inisherin" doesn't have any banshees. What it does have are actors Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. And critic Bob Mondello says when they're working with filmmaker Martin McDonagh, they are plenty.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: A patchwork quilt of lush green farms, Inisherin is a rocky island just off the coast of Ireland, where everyone knows everyone. And Padraic and Colm have long seemed inseparable until...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN")

SHEILA FLITTON: (As Mrs. McCormick) Colm Sonny Larry, didn't you and he used to be the best of friends?

COLIN FARRELL: (As Padraic Suilleabhain) We're still the best of friends.

FLITTON: (As Mrs. McCormick) No, you're not.

FARRELL: (As Padraic Suilleabhain) Who says we're not?

MONDELLO: Colm does when Padraic catches him at the pub.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN")

BRENDAN GLEESON: (As Colm Doherty) Sit somewhere else.

FARRELL: (As Padraic Suilleabhain) But I have me pint there, Colm.

PAT SHORTT: (As Jonjo Devine) He has his pint there, Colm, from when he came in and ordered his pint before.

GLEESON: (As Colm Doherty) Well, OK. I'll sit somewhere else.

MONDELLO: Even having been warned, Padraic is blindsided. But as played by an ever-optimistic Colin Farrell, he does the sensible thing - follows Brendan Gleeson's Colm outside, determined to make peace.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN")

FARRELL: (As Padraic Suilleabhain) If I've done something to you, just tell me what I've done to you. And if I've said something to you, maybe I said something when I was drunk and I 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.

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) But you liked me yesterday.

MONDELLO: The wounded look that comes into Farrell's eyes you'd think would melt the stoniest heart. But Colm is unmoved, much to the astonishment of the pub regulars, from young Dominic...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN")

BARRY KEOGHAN: (As Dominic Kearney) Why does he not want to be friends with you no more? What is he, 12?

MONDELLO: ...To the parish priest.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN")

DAVID PEARSE: (As priest) Why aren't you talking to Padraic no more?

GLEESON: (As Colm Doherty) That wouldn't be a sin, now, would it, father?

PEARSE: (As priest) No. But it's not very nice either, is it?

GLEESON: Colm isn't buying.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN")

GLEESON: (As Colm Doherty) Do you know who we remember for how nice they was in the 17th century?

FARRELL: (As Padraic Suilleabhain) Who?

GLEESON: (As Colm Doherty) Absolutely no one. Yet we all remember the music of the time. Everyone, to a man, knows Mozart's name.

FARRELL: (As Padraic Suilleabhain) I don't, so there goes that theory.

MONDELLO: Padraic again. These guys really don't have a lot in common - Colm artistically inclined, Padraic sweet-natured but not remotely curious about anything except his equally sweet-natured donkey. Writer-director Martin McDonagh could keep the odd couple shtick going indefinitely. But as in "In Bruges," with these same actors as hitmen, or his caustic take on small-town America, "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," McDonagh's using comedy to get at something darker.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN")

GLEESON: (As Colm Doherty) If you don't stop bothering me, I have a set of shears at home. And each time you bother me from this day on, I'll take those shears and I'll take one of me fingers off with them. And I'll give that finger to you until I have no fingers left. Does this make things clearer to you?

FARRELL: (As Padraic Suilleabhain) Not really, no.

GLEESON: (As Colm Doherty) Starting from now.

MONDELLO: In a McDonagh story, that sort of threat's never idle, nor are the furies that fuel it. "The Banshees Of Inisherin" is probably the closest of McDonagh's films to the scalding stage work that made his reputation. But more than his writing and sharp direction, it's the performances that register - Kerry Condon commonsensical as Padraic's protective sister...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN")

KERRY CONDON: (As Siobhan Suilleabhain) You can't just all of a sudden stop being friends with a fella.

MONDELLO: ...Barry Keoghan's endearingly dim bulb...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN")

KEOGHAN: (As Dominic Kearney) Would you not want him to have to do the one finger to see if he was bluffing like?

CONDON: (As Siobhan Suilleabhain) No, we wouldn't.

KEOGHAN: (As Dominic Kearney) 'Cause worse comes to worse, he can still play the fiddle with four fingers, I bet you.

MONDELLO: ...And the two leads, seeming to have just stepped out of a Samuel Beckett play, friendship unravelling as they're waiting for Godot, or something just as elusive. Gleeson, a hard-headed giant; Farrell, eyes brimming, at once hopeful and anguished - twinned pals. You'll empathize with both in a tale of buddies that plays like a blood feud. "The Banshees Of Inisherin," if they actually existed, would be shrieking at and for this mythic, funny, haunting pair. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.