Set on a remote Irish fictional island, with the nascent “Troubles” heard from the distant mainland, live two very best friends, “Pádraic Súilleabháin” (Colin Farrell) and “Colm Doherty” (Brendan Gleeson).
The two drink together at the only local pub and talk manly rubbish. A previous long conversation about what was contained in Padraic’s pony’s “business” telegraphs Colm’s later protestation that Padriac is dull.
Colm likes to play the violin, contributing to the local jig in the pub with fervour. Realising there is more to life than talking pony poo. Colm calmly states he will no longer be Padriac’s friend, as he no longer likes him, with no warning, all human interaction cut.
In a community of so few people, this withdrawal of human connection is devastating to Padraic, who lives with his sister “Siobhán” (Kerry Condon), scraping a living by selling milk from his cow. No animals in the house his sister protests, somewhat in vain.
Padraic is a good man, albeit poorly educated and slow in the best sense of the word, he takes the news very personally. Set with a permanent sense of befuddlement, he stumbles forward. Of course this becomes the subject of much idle gossip, when your only entertainment is the local pub, what else is there?
Despite many requests to leave him in peace, to complete his long gestating musical piece, Padraic’s dogged intrusion leads Colm to take drastic steps. Threatening his own self mutilation, definitely hampering his future violin playing.
This leads the story from amiable and likeable dramedy to somewhere much darker.
Padriac is later inspired by his other somewhat damaged acquaintance “Dominic” (Barry Keoghan), to be more forceful, only leading to yet more darkness.
The acting as you would expect is naturalistic, with stand outs from Gleeson and Farrell, with Farrell never better. They are ably supported by excellent turns from Condon and Keoghan (Oscar nominated).
Arguably the only character with any common sense is Siobhán, with the remaining people portrayed as narrow minded, stuck and rather sad, not the best recipe for a pleasant two hours of entertainment.
The scenery and cinematography are raw, windswept and all too real, coupled with the deep seated religious hypocrisy and compromised solitary policeman, this makes for a heady brew. The writer even introduces a Shakesperean like figure dressed in black portending doom, in the shape of “Mrs McCormick” (Sheila Flitton).
Of course we should expect dark from writer/director Martin McDonagh, whose previous success with “In Bruges” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri” managed the delicate act of dark humour, violence and drama. Here McDonagh takes a step backward from those high points.
This is a film that starts well and subsequently travels down a path most of the audience probably didn’t sign up for. Overall a pity as the talent and initial foundations are there but this is not a journey a mainstream audience wants to travel.
Disappointing, despite the enviable talent on display, creating a downbeat, feel bad movie that squanders the initial promise to deliver a story only the director may love.
For animal lovers, the dog will be fine, all other bets are off.