Don't worry if you can't pronounce the title. Writer-director Martin McDonagh, a son of Ireland and fresh off the mirth and menace of "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," is at it again with "The Banshees of Inisherin." It's a stunning achievement, brimming over with dark comic magic and jolts of bloody scary hell. Fasten your seatbelts.
For the record, banshees, out of Irish folklore, are female spirits known for shrieking before a death in the family. Inisherin is a remote fictional island off of Ireland's west coast where in 1923 McDonagh finds two pals who break up because one cuts the other dead. Why? Hang on.
Since the two friends are played with mad skills by, respectively, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleason, you're in for a display of acting at its funniest, fiercest and finest. If you thought these two Dubliners worked wonders as hitmen in McDonagh's 2008 debut "In Bruges," you'll be knocked out by the crazy killer fun they uncork here.
Ferrell, 46, plays Padraic, a simple soul who mostly ignores the sounds of gunfire from the Irish Civil War he hears across the bay. "Good luck to you," he announces, "whatever it is you're fighting about." Padraic, who lives with his unmarried sister Siobhan (a superb Kerry Condon) and a pet donkey, spends his days exchanging blarney with his older pub mate, Colm.
Gleason, 67, plays the gruff, no-nonsense Colm as a fiddle-playing loner who tolerates Padraic until, well, he doesn't. Out of nowhere Colm tells Padraic to get out of his face forever. He wants to compose music to leave as his legacy and he doesn't need Padraic's jabbering.
If you think that's a setup for a twinkly bromance that will end in harmony and cuddles, then you don't know McDonagh. Colm, wielding a rusty shears, threatens to cut off a finger every time Padraic speaks a word to him. He's as serious as the war between brothers raging outside.
McDonagh is no stranger to violence and its repercussions. You can see it in his acclaimed work as a playwright in prizewinners from "The Pillowman" to "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" and "Hangmen." McDonagh's skill as a wordsmith often sees critics undervalue his talent as an assured and experimental director.
That ignorance can be banished in the way McDonagh allows the beauty and stark sadness of Inisherin (kudos to the poetry of light and shadow achieved by camera wiz Ben Davis) to infiltrate and illuminate this tale of people living on the edge of civilization and madness.
The actors could not be better. Besides the sensational Condon who should lead the awards race for Best Supporting Actress, there is the brilliant Barry Keoghan as the so-called village idiot who uncovers his secret heart to Siobhan in a scene that takes a piece out of you.
And pay attention to Sheila Flitton as the witchy Mrs. McCormick, whose unkind prophecies align her with the title's banshees. "A death shall come, maybe even two deaths," she wails.
Most of all, you stick with Farrell and Gleason through the currents of challenge and provocation that blow through the film. Gleason plays Colm like a gathering storm, a true force of nature. Best known as Mad-Eye Moody in the "Harry Potter" series and Donald Trump in "The Comey Rule," Gleason seizes the role of his career in "Banshees" and rides it to glory.
Shamefully, neither Gleason nor Farrell has won an Oscar or even been nominated for one. That changes now. Farrell gravitates to risk in films as diverse as "The Lobster" and the Penguin in "The Batman." But in nailing every nuance in sweet, soulful, exasperating and emotionally vulnerable Padraic, Farrell delivers his finest two hours on screen. He's phenomenal.
From acting to writing, direction, sound and image, "The Banshees of Inisherin" stands high with the best movies of the year and cements McDonagh's reputation as a world-class filmmaker with the power to sneak up and floor you.