In the Land of Saints & Sinners Review


Summary

  • Liam Neeson and an Irish cast are very good. Kerry Condon gives a powerhouse performance as the driven antagonist, making her a standout in the film.
  • The setting in 1974 Northern Ireland adds depth to the story and brings out the ethical themes of
    In the Land of Saints and Sinners
    beautifully.
  • Though filled with clichés, the film’s excellent performances and Western-style ending make it a standout Neeson thriller.



Studios and filmmakers have milked Liam Neeson’s excellent turn to an action star in seemingly every way the past 15 years, ever since Taken premiered in 2008. Though there have been definite duds among the bunch, Neeson has a gravel and gravitas that makes him magnetic in almost any film, and he has helped make a couple of thrillers (such as The Grey) downright transcendent thanks to his excellent presence. His new film, In the Land of Saints and Sinners, utilizes the best of Neeson despite mostly giving him the same old song and dance.

Neeson plays Finbar Murphy, a professional hitman hiding out in a beautiful coastal village in Northern Ireland. He’s falling for his neighbor, is friends with the local Garda who polices the place, and enjoys the local pub. He’s ready to retire and try to start a garden, hoping to grow something instead of cutting things down. When he chooses to protect a young girl in an act of vigilante violence, he becomes the target of a deadly gang. Yep, it’s all very familiar.


Fortunately, the film is filled with enough soulful performances, beautiful cinematography, and good direction from Robert Lorenz that it overcomes its clichés. In the Land of Saints and Sinners also benefits greatly from its setting in Northern Ireland circa 1974, which adds a lot of ethical and political dimensions to the film while also giving it a beautiful location. Neeson and the rest of the Irish cast are very good, and Kerry Condon (playing a wicked antagonist) is downright phenomenal.


Welcome to Ireland, 1974

In the Land of Saints and Sinners

3.5/5

Release Date
March 29, 2024

Runtime
1hr 46min

Writers
Terry Loane , Mark Michael McNally

Studio
Facing East Entertainment, RagBag Pictures, London Town Films

Pros

  • Kerry Condon is amazing and Liam Neeson and an Irish cast give great performances.
  • The setting is culturally specific and adds to the ethical themes.
  • The film has an excellent, Western-style ending.
Cons

  • Contains a lot of obvious cliches and can be unrealistic.


Unlike most films which include the euphemistically named ‘Troubles,’ or the violent fight for Irish independence, In the Land of Saints and Sinners is set in the quiet, beautiful district of Glencolmcille on the Atlantic coast of Ulster. Hidden in the County of Donegal, it’s a place out of time and could easily be mistaken for the setting of The Banshees of Inisherin, despite that film being set 60 years prior. Shooting on location, Lorenz’s movie captures all the sweeping beauty of this land, from the crashing waves to the endless hills and greenery.

The film feels authentically Irish, too, and features a handful of the best Irish actors of all time. Ciarán Hinds is sweet and funny as policeman Vinnie O’Shea, who practices his shot with Neeson’s Finbar by shooting cans. Colm Meaney is quietly interesting as Finbar’s handler of sorts, Robert McQue, a man who lives with his adorable old mother despite handing out hits and paying assassins from their home. He manages to come off as sympathetic and almost paternal, deeply appreciative of Finbar and ultimately accepting of the hitman’s retirement. Jack Gleeson is delightful as Kevin, a hotshot young hitman and possible psychopath who has recently started working for Robert and may be Finbar’s replacement.


Related: Liam Neeson Says New Film Allowed Him to ‘Indulge in One’s Own Irishness’

Kerry Condon cements her status as one of the best actresses working today as Doireann McCann. She and her gang, the most radical kind of I.R.A. sect, open the film in Dublin, planting a car bomb to take out members of the opposition. The tense, small scene cleverly sets up the ethical questions of the film that the title alludes to — to what end is violence justified? For Doireann, she’d let children die in order to continue the fight for Irish independence. For Finbar, he’d come out of retirement and risk his anonymity in order to kill a child predator. Doireann uses a political justification; Finbar uses an ethical one.

Kerry Condon vs. Liam Neeson


Doireann comes into Finbar’s orbit after she and her three comrades seek a desolate place to hide out following the opening scene car bomb. Of course, that place happens to be Glencolmcille. Doireann’s disgusting brother takes a perverted liking to a very young girl in town, leading to Finbar’s protective intervention, which in turn sends Doireann on a single-minded mission to destroy Finbar and his life.

Related: The 20 Best Irish Movies of All Time, Ranked

Condon walks a fine line here between stark raving mad and utterly driven, and she nails it. This is a woman so firm in her beliefs that they consume everything good about her. She’s a killer, and so is Finbar, and it’s a fight to the death. Neeson is melancholic and tired, which works well here. After killing so many people, he’s nearing the end of his own life and is soul-sick and weary. He wants to salvage whatever goodness is left in him and give it back to the world.


The two actors give powerhouse performances, leading to an extremely gripping (but unrealistic) conclusion. In the Land of Saints and Sinners hints at being a Western throughout the film, mostly through musical and visual motifs, but it really assimilates the genre at the end, which the film marches inexorably toward, like High Noon. It ends with a scene that’s half Tombstone, half John Woo in its themes, setting, and vibe. The conclusion really brings the meaning of the film home and is surprisingly beautiful.


So yes, In the Land of Saints and Sinners is filled with the same tropes of many Neeson action flicks, but it’s so culturally specific, so well-acted, and often so gripping that it rises above the pack and becomes the best thriller Neeson has done in five or six years. Produced by Facing East, RagBag Pictures, and Prodigal Films Limited Samuel Goldwyn Films, In the Land of Saints and Sinners was released by Samuel Goldwyn Films in select theaters today, March 29, 2024. You can watch the trailer below:



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