Martin McDonagh and Colin Farrell have collaborated on three pitch-black comedies — In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths, and The Banshees of Inisherin — but while each is hilarious and profound, some are better than others. McDonagh began his career as a playwright before bringing his acerbic wit to the big screen. Thanks to his theater background, the filmmaker is always focused on dialogue and character, and he gives his actors challenging roles to play. When he made his feature directorial debut with In Bruges, McDonagh established a long-running creative partnership with Farrell.
A versatile performer, Farrell has played a variety of great roles. He’s played heroes and villains and complex characters who exist in a gray area between the two. The parts he’s played for McDonagh are compelling examples of the latter. Farrell’s work with McDonagh on In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths, and The Banshees of Inisherin has proven that their dark comedic sensibilities are perfectly aligned. While all have been praised by critics and been hits with audiences, only one can be considered the best of the three. Here is a ranking of all of McDonagh and Farrell’s movies together.
3 Seven Psychopaths
Martin McDonagh followed up his wildly successful debut feature with a movie about a filmmaker trying to follow up a successful movie. Seven Psychopaths is a twisty Tarantino-style action comedy that brings a meta angle to its glamorous cinematic bloodshed as a screenwriter tries to crack his next script. Like the movie itself, this writer struggles to balance action-packed entertainment with heavier themes of mortality and the cycle of violence. With an 83% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes and a 7.1 rating on IMDb, Seven Psychopaths is almost as acclaimed as McDonagh’s career-launching first movie.
As a self-aware movie about a storyteller facing a creative block, Seven Psychopaths is like 8½ with guns and dognappings. Farrell stars as hard-drinking screenwriter Marty Faranan opposite Sam Rockwell as Billy Bickle, a struggling actor who moonlights as a small-time crook to pay the bills, and Christopher Walken as Hans Kieslowski, Billy’s partner in crime. Rockwell shines as one of the seven psychopaths, while Farrell makes for a hilariously deadpan voice of reason swept up in his friend’s illegal shenanigans. After playing the character with all the best one-liners getting into absurd situations in In Bruges, Farrell proved he was just as adept at playing the everyman role in Seven Psychopaths.
With thrilling set-pieces, layers of fiction within fiction, a sprawling ensemble of colorful characters, and a surplus of surprising twists and turns, Seven Psychopaths is a really fun movie. Fans of action films and dark humor won’t be disappointed. But it’s not as thematically deep or complex as McDonagh and Farrell’s other movies. In Bruges and The Banshees of Inisherin are modern-day fables tackling big, existential questions about life and death and human connection. In deconstructing action movie tropes, Seven Psychopaths ends up falling into some of the genre’s pitfalls.
2 In Bruges
Martin McDonagh and Colin Farrell instantly became a renowned actor-director pairing with their work on In Bruges. Farrell’s performance earned him a Golden Globe, while McDonagh’s script earned him a BAFTA Film Award and an Oscar nomination. Farrell and Brendan Gleeson star as a pair of contract killers, Ray and Ken, who are sent to hide out in a “fairy tale town” in Belgium after one of them makes a harrowing mistake on the job. With an 84% score on Rotten Tomatoes and a 7.9 rating on IMDb, In Bruges hit big with critics and audiences.
In Bruges established Farrell’s razor-sharp on-screen dynamic with Gleeson. Their comic timing is perfectly in tune with one another, and they bring a surplus of gravitas to the more dramatic scenes. Farrell plays In Bruges‘ Ray as a sardonic assassin desperately clinging to his wry wit as he reckons with the guilt of an unspeakable accident, while Gleeson’s Ken provides a nuanced foil as a killer with a conscience who wants to help his partner through a dark night of the soul. Ralph Fiennes steals the show with a supporting turn as the foul-mouthed crime boss who organized the Bruges trip and ends up heading down there to finish the job himself.
Like Harold Pinter’s one-act play The Dumb Waiter, In Bruges is a compelling hitman thriller whose conflicts are driven by characters and dialogue as opposed to action. It introduced McDonagh’s uniquely pitch-black comedic sensibility to moviegoing audiences in one of the most promising directorial debuts of the decades. On the surface, In Bruges is a morbidly dark comedy about two Irish tourists getting into anarchic shenanigans in a quaint European city. But, as the story develops and Ray’s guilt comes to the surface, it becomes a complex meditation on morality.
1 The Banshees Of Inisherin
With a near-perfect Rotten Tomatoes score of 96%, The Banshees of Inisherin is Martin McDonagh and Colin Farrell’s most critically acclaimed collaboration. The movie’s 7.8 IMDb rating suggests audiences also appreciate its unique blend of social satire and mythic character dynamics. The Banshees of Inisherin is a breakup movie about two lifelong friends not-so-mutually parting ways. It starts off with a simple premise: Farrell plays Pádraic, whose drinking buddy Colm, played by Brendan Gleeson, decides one day that he doesn’t want to hang out with him anymore and refuses to speak to him. The whole thing escalates until fingers are severed, beloved animals are killed, and houses are burned down.
As the co-leads of The Banshees of Inisherin‘s exquisite ensemble cast, Farrell and Gleeson’s magnetic on-screen chemistry is stronger than ever in this reunion. Like In Bruges, The Banshees of Inisherin is a character-driven two-hander carried by the duo, but it’s more emotionally engaging and thought-provoking. Whereas In Bruges could rely on gunfights and foot chases for genre thrills, The Banshees of Inisherin is driven solely by the actors’ performances. Farrell once again takes the role of the everyman as Pádraic wonders why his friend has suddenly turned on him, while Gleeson brings plenty of pathos to Colm’s bluntly cold attitude towards his former pal.
The Irish Civil War sets the perfect backdrop for the story of a feud between brothers that gradually becomes uglier and more violent. The Banshees of Inisherin swept the Oscar nominations with nods in a whopping nine categories at the 2023 Oscars. The Academy’s recognition points to all the things the movie did well: Martin McDonagh’s steady-handed direction and compassionate script, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson’s impeccable performances alongside the scene-stealing supporting players Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan, Mikkel E.G. Nielsen’s razor-sharp editing, and an affecting musical score by the great Carter Burwell.
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