When it comes to great acting, there’s a general assumption that a rising tide lifts all boats, and a good ensemble is one in which everyone is elevating everyone else’s game. But think about all those times you’ve seen a film featuring an actor who gave it absolutely everything they had, and then a week later you realize they’re the only actor you remember. For every towering ensemble and brilliant supporting performance, there’s often another ensemble, or another performance, that fades into the background after the credits roll.
It would be easy to imagine this happening to a film like The Banshees of Inisherin, even with writer/director Martin McDonagh’s astonishing track record of memorable characters. The film’s stars, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, absolutely tower over the landscape of the narrative, becoming twin powerhouses that are already (in Farrell’s case) filling trophy cases. Some actors might diminish when paired with such work, but Kerry Condon is not one of them.
Yes, Gleeson and Farrell deserve all the praise they’re getting, and will continue to get, for their portrayal of the fallout at the heart of McDonagh’s breakup story. Other supporting actors, like Barry Keoghan and Bríd Ní Neachtain, to name just two, also deserve laurels for their persistently remarkable presence in the film. But upon repeat viewings of the film, my favorite release of 2022, it’s Condon who emerges as Banshees’ secret weapon, standing in the gap between two giants with a stirring fire all her own.
At first glance, Condon’s role as Siobhán Súilleabháin is a balance between peacemaker and exasperated observer, caught in the middle of a falling out between her brother Pádraic (Farrell) and his old pal Colm (Gleeson). It’s a role she fills with the energy we’ve come to expect from her performances, which include previous collaborations with McDonagh on both stage and screen, and if the role stopped there she’d still be doing great work. But Siobhán is more than a mediator in this ever-escalating breakdown of a friendship, more than a scold to Colm and a comfort to her brother. There’s a depth to her that we’re given clues to early on, which only grows richer as the film wears on and Siobhán’s own relationship to both the conflict and the title island shifts.
We learn early in the film that Siobhán and Pádraic lost their parents some years earlier, and they’ve been living alone in the same house ever since. We also learn that Siobhán has never married (neither, presumably, has her brother), that she has a passion for reading, and that she seems to have settled into a quiet life of keeping the house and being a dutiful citizen of Inisherin. It’s this sense of duty that pushes her to attempt to play peacemaker, and even sensemaker, of the situation between her brother and Colm. Some of the film’s best moments feature Siobhán storming away from her house to settle some dispute or other, whether she’s shouting down Colm or dragging her brother back home.
Yet there’s more to Siobhán’s life than this simple existence, or at least she wants more than what Inisherin has granted her. At some point, she decided to act on that desire and apply for a job on the mainland, which she eventually gets, but a new living situation and daily routine isn’t all she’s after. The key to Siobhán as a character comes when she confronts Colm over his first chopped-off finger.
There, standing in Colm’s house surrounded by his various hobbies, bemoaning the state of a conflict that stems from nothing, Siobhán hears her friend say he worries he’s just passing the time to “stave off the inevitable.” Then Colm, who spends the entire film wrapped up in his own self-involved despair, asks Siobhán if she ever gets the same feeling.
“No, I don’t,” Siobhán says. We can see in her eyes that she’s lying, and so can Colm. But it’s not just the delivery of the line that makes that moment work, which unlocks Siobhán as a character and Condon as an unshakably great presence in this film. It’s the way a shadow passes across her face as she says it, the way the shape of her shoulders changes just so, the way her eyes don’t lose focus but somehow still shift, as though a little ember somewhere deep in her mind just started to glow a little brighter.
It’s a remarkable moment in a remarkable performance, one filled with fierce line reads, impeccable comic timing and immense vulnerability. It reveals Siobhán as a person carrying a despair all her own, but it also reveals her to be the one person on Inisherin who just might find a way to escape that despair unscathed. Because it’s Condon who lives this moment, we believe that she can be free, and we celebrate her freedom when it finally comes. That she can achieve all that in a single performance is wonderful in and of itself. That she could do it alongside Farrell and Gleeson in this film, at this moment, is nothing short of brilliant.
Matthew Jackson is a pop culture writer and nerd-for-hire who’s been writing about entertainment for more than a decade. His writing about movies, TV, comics, and more regularly appears at SYFY WIRE, Looper, Mental Floss, Decider, BookPage, and other outlets. He lives in Austin, Texas, and when he’s not writing he’s usually counting the days until Christmas.