There is a particular, undefinable type of movie that no one in Ireland enjoys. The Banshees of Inisherin from 2022 is a good illustration of this. When Brendan Gleeson suddenly threatens to chop off each of his fingers, you might be enjoying the magnificent countryside, the clever banter, and Colin Farrell and his donkey.
Irish films have a knack for fusing genres, making you wonder if you’re seeing a drama, a black comedy, a thriller, or something you never imagined could be a movie at all. They can make you laugh out loud one minute and cry the next. If your country’s most famous novel clocks in at over 700 pages and only covers one day in the life of a certain Leopold Bloom, with stream-of-consciousness prose flitting back and forth throughout a narrative that can abruptly change from a play-like structure to a discourse on Irish mythology, from a tender love story to a masturbatory peeping Tom situation, odds are your cinema isn’t g
The Banshees of Inisherin are proving to be a huge success, and rightfully so. Martin McDonagh first gained recognition for his plays before moving on to write and direct films, including In Bruges and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (he wrote, directed, and produced The Banshees of Inisherin). Despite their shared Hollywood stardom, Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell both excel in this picture (and in their previous McDonagh outing together, In Bruges). All three of these actors are mentioned in the list that follows, but hopefully you will also pick up a few new names when we look at some recommended movies for fans of The Banshees of Inisherin.
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In this ominous movie directed by John Michael McDonagh (Martin’s older brother), Brendan Gleeson plays a guy who entered the clergy later in life. The all-star supporting ensemble includes Kelly Reilly as the priest’s daughter who feels like dad abandoned her, Chris O’Dowd as a temperamental butcher, M. Emmet Walsh as a suicidal writer, and Domhnall Gleeson (Brendan Gleeson’s real-life son) as a prison-bound murdering cannibal. The majority of the filming was done in County Sligo, and the untamed, desolate surroundings represent the problems faced by Gleeson’s priest and his disgruntled parishioners. While the priest battles his and everyone else’s issues, the movie is not a joyful one, it is nonetheless lovely.
Disco Pigs (2001)
In this Kirsten Sheridan-directed adaptation of an Enda Walsh play, which he also starred in on stage, Cillian Murphy had one of his first leading roles. He portrays the role of Pig to Elaine Cassidy’s Runt, two teenage best friends in Cork who lead a completely solitary existence together by speaking in their own odd patois and minimising contact with other people. The intensity of their bond, which takes a dark turn when Runt rejects Pig’s sexual advances, worries their parents. A planet with only two individuals and what happens when one of them desires escape are the subjects of this compelling movie. It’s a strange movie that alternately features humour, tragedy, and violence, and Murphy and Cassidy deliver standout performances.
Unlike the other films on our list, this completely unique movie is not strictly Irish, but it was nonetheless made by Irish production companies and stars Domhnall Gleeson and Michael Fassbender as the eponymous character. The entire thing is based on a Jon Ronson newspaper article on musician Chris Sievey’s humorous alter ego Frank Sidebottom, who was a bandmate of Ronson’s. In this made-up tale, Frank is still the band’s lead vocalist. One of his numerous eccentricities is that he constantly wears a huge paper mâché head. By chance, Gleeson’s character joins The Soronprfbs, Frank’s band, whose music is best characterised as an acquired taste. The experimental band decides to spend a year in a remote cabin in Ireland, but that doesn’t quite work out for them, much like practically everything else in the movie. To go into detail about the plot would take far too long; suffice it to say that the entire movie is bizarre and delightful, humorous, heartbreaking, and head-scratching.
In Bruges (2008)
If you enjoyed Gleeson and Farrell’s chemistry in The Banshees of Inisherin but haven’t seen their earlier McDonagh collaboration, make up for it right away! After Ray accidentally murders a child while carrying out a hit, Ken and Ray, two London-based hit guys, are compelled to take a holiday in Belgium. Their evil employer Harry, played by Ralph Fiennes, has vowed to punish Ray for his error. A sort of British gangster film plopped down in the centre of a mediaeval city full of lovely canals, the film is dark, violent, cutting, and biting. The violence that breaks up the discourse, which is caustically funny, feels especially shocking considering the backdrop of a fairy tale. We’re keeping our fingers crossed since Gleeson, Farrell, and McDonagh have discussed the possibility that Banshees will be the second film in a trilogy that began with In Bruges.
Cillian Murphy, Colin Farrell, Kelly Mcdonald, Colm Meaney, and Shirley Henderson are just a few of the outstanding cast members of this dark comedy. A number of Dublin-based people are weaved into the story, and their stories eventually come full circle in surprising ways. Grocery clerk laments breaking up with his lover Macdonald and takes the stupid decision to join Farrell in robbing a bank, not realising that it will also involve Macdonald’s new bank manager boyfriend. Charming criminal Farrell is being pursued by slightly psychotic cop Meaney. Henderson, who may or may not have a moustache, is Macdonald’s frail, despondent sister. It’s a charming slice of Dublin life interspersed with action, sadness, and heroism, a little dark but not too dark, enlivened by genuinely brilliant performances, and the entertaining soundtrack from the early 2000s.
Glen Hansard, the lead vocalist of the Irish band The Frames, and Markéta Irgovla star in Once, a very endearing, relatable romantic comedy, dispelling the notion that all Irish movies are violent or dark comedies (together the two headlines The Swell Season). Hansard is a struggling busker, and Irglová’s flower seller strikes up a conversation with him after hearing his singing and strumming. She is married to a man who is still in the Czech Republic, but he learns that she is a musician as well. They rapidly develop a connection based on their shared love of music, despite Hansard’s character falling in love with his new friend right away. The charming, peaceful plot is highlighted by the songs they sing together, so it’s hardly surprising that the popular movie also inspired a successful stage musical.
The Butcher Boy (1997)
The Butcher Child, a grim comedy about Francie, a young boy in the 1960s who is starting to lose his sense of reality, is based on Patrick McCabe’s 1992 novel. His family life is terrible, but the violent fantasy world he flees into is getting worse. The supporting ensemble includes Sinead O’Connor as the Virgin Mary, Brendan Gleeson as a scary priest named Father Bubble, Fiona Shaw as a snobby neighbour, and Stephen Rea as Francie’s alcoholic father. In spite of dealing with an extremely depressing subject matter, director Neil Jordan was able to adapt a book that was deemed to be pretty well unadaptable into a movie.
The General (1998)
Another Brendan Gleeson-starring movie, this one based on the real-life exploits of Dublin criminal leader Martin Cahill, who committed crimes in the 1980s. From the slums, Cahill was a family guy (with a complicated family because he also has children from a previous relationship with his wife’s sister). He gained notoriety as a sort of Robin Hood figure who was adored by his neighbourhood and even somewhat respected by the police. In an effort to trick the other, Gleeson’s lighthearted Cahill and Jon Voight’s police inspector dodge and weave. In the end, Cahill suffered a horrific death after being shot by an as-of-yet unidentified motorcycle gunman. It takes an understanding look at a criminal who was viewed as more than the sum of his misdeeds. (Film trivia: John Boorman’s home was once broken into by Cahill, who made off with the gold record the director won for Deliverance.)
The Guard (2011)
Irish buddy cop comedies are rare; perhaps this one was so brilliant that they didn’t need any more? Gerry Boyle, portrayed by Brendan Gleeson, is a harsh, disagreeable Connemara policeman who isn’t known for his good manners. Don Cheadle plays FBI agent Wendell Everett, Boyle’s stiff-upper-lipped antithesis, who is dispatched after a drug trafficker shows up on the local scene. Once again written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, the movie became the biggest independent Irish hit to date. Despite being a little lighter than the McDonagh brothers’ earlier productions, it is a really pleasant dark comedy.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
The Banshees of Inisherin’s hesitant friends, Colin Farrell and Barry Keoghan, star in this Irish-produced psychological horror mystery directed by Academy Award winner Yorgos Lanthimos as a heart surgeon and a teenage kid whose father passed away on the physician’s operating table. The two’s relationship (and that of their families) is immediately unsettling. One by one, members of Farrell’s family start to get sick, and Keoghan tells him that he must kill a member of his own family as retaliation for the loss of his own father. It’s difficult to categorise this movie into any particular genre, with the possible exception of fascinating and unsettling, propelled by eccentric performances, like Lanthimos’ past works.
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