How John Ford Westerns Inspired ‘Banshees of Inisherin’ Cinematography

When “Banshees of Inisherin” cinematographer Ben Davis received the film’s script, his reaction was that while there were many interpretations to be had, it was the conflict that spoke to him. “Particularly men in conflict and how most wars are created and caused by men, and maybe they could have sorted that out, and they didn’t need to do that,” says Davis.

The Martin McDonagh helmed film stars Colin Farrell as Padraic and Brendan Gleeson as Colm. The two have been friends for years, but when Pádraic goes to call on Colm for their usual afternoon walk to the pub, Colm pretends he doesn’t see or hear him. When Colm finally makes his way to the bar, he tells Pádraic that he doesn’t like him anymore, and simply doesn’t want to be his friend anymore.

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For Davis, the key to framing the story was distance.

Davis says he and McDonagh had conversations about the film almost being like a Western. Even in his storyboarding, McDonagh who had storyboarded the whole film used Western-inspired imagery. Says Davis, “There were a lot of John Ford-style shots, shooting through doorways and windows to separate the characters.”

Davis watched old Westerns such as “The Searcher” for visual references.

A scene that Davis found challenging was when Kerry Condon’s character Siobhán finally leaves the island on a boat. There was a crew on the boat and a crew with Farrell’s character as he waves goodbye. Says Davis, “It was quite treacherous land. It was hard to get equipment there because it had to go on a small ferry, and the roads are so narrow. We could only have very small vehicles, and a lot of locations were not accessible by road at all.” He adds Farrell’s character also had to stand on the edge of a cliff with a 300-foot drop.

Another scene that stuck with Davis was the confessional scenes with Gleeson. He wanted to capture the emotional aspects of the scene. In this moment, Davis says the character is suffering from melancholia and is closed off. He’s in despair. “I wanted to get the camera really close to him, and I wanted to see into his eyes in those moments.” Says Davis, “I felt incredibly sympathetic to him because I’m of that age, and you get to an age and you do you look at your life. You think, ‘What have I done with my life? Where is it going?’”

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