September 18, 2022

Toronto Film Festival Reviews: “The Banshees of Inisherin” & “The Son”


THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN (Searchlight/Disney – October 21):  After a sojourn in America with 3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Seven Psychopaths, Martin McDonagh returns to Ireland with the comic tragedy (or vice versa) The Banshees of Inisherin.  The setting is an island off the Irish coast in the 1920s, where Padraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson) have been friends for as long as anyone can remember.  One day, though, Padraic is shocked when Colm tells him their friendship is over, not because of any fight or insult, but essentially because Colm thinks that time spent with Padraic is wasting hours he could better be putting into his avocation of composing ballads for the fiddle.  Padraic resolutely refuses to take no for an answer, which leads to a horrifying escalation as Colm calmly announces the steps he’ll take if Padraic won’t stay away.  Among those pulled into the vortex are Padraic’s sympathetic but clear-eyed sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon), and Dominic (Barry Keoghan), a young man of the town with his own problems and need for a friend.  While staying modest in its scope, The Banshees of Inisherin tackles big themes like the nature of friendship and the way in which we judge our own lives and those of others.  McDonagh methodically carries the tale to a logical if terrible conclusion, and he’s helped by a set of superb performances.  McDonagh, Farrell and Gleeson previously teamed on In Bruges, and their work here feels both instinctive and perfectly judged.  Farrell won the Best Actor award in Venice, and Brendan Fraser’s prosthetics notwithstanding, should be a strong candidate for further honors.  The photography by Ben Davis and production design by Tildesley are also important in creating an isolated, insular setting where the story’s events feel like a tall tale that might yet be true.  The Banshees of Inisherin is a harshly funny, lovely piece of work.

THE SON (Sony Classics – November 11):  With the exception of a single fake-out late in the game, Florian Zeller’s The Son has none of the structural ingenuity of his Oscar-winning The Father, and it may be that Zeller needed that fancy wrapping more than we knew, because in its unadorned form, his writing (with Christopher Hampton, also his collaborator on  The Father) has an uncomfortable air of The Emperor’s New Clothes.  The Son is neither sequel nor prequel to The Father, a confusion that’s likely to be increased by the cameo appearance by Anthony Hopkins here, playing a paterfamilias unrelated to his prior Oscar-winning turn.  The new film centers on successful attorney Peter (Hugh Jackman), his first wife Kate (Laura Dern) and current wife Beth (Vanessa Kirby), and Nicholas (Zen McGrath), Peter’s teen son with Kate.  The Son, originally written for the theatre, is almost entirely concerned with the problem of Nicholas’s depression.  He’s skipping school, lying to his parents, and expressing little beyond anger and a refusal to engage.  Peter tries to do the right thing, taking Nicholas in with Beth and their newborn when Nicholas can’t bear to stay with Kate, but he doesn’t know how to connect with his son.  Zeller’s hamhanded writing makes it clear that a happy ending is unlikely here, and there are so many hints dropped about a dangerous object in the apartment that it might as well have a red neon arrow pointing to it.  Everyone involved does a great deal of acting, and Jackman nails Peter’s mix of puzzlement, guilt and frustration, but the fact is that there’s less depth here than we’d expect in a broadcast network drama on the subject.  The word is that we have another Zeller family story on the way (yes, it’s called The Mother), and one hopes that it has either more substance or at least an effective gimmick.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."