In The Land Of Saints And Sinners Review

In The Land Of Saints And Sinners
Ireland, 1974. Finbar Murphy (Liam Neeson) is a contract killer in a remote coastal village who decides to retire. With the violence of The Troubles raging, Finbar is soon forced back into vigilante justice.

by John Nugent |
Published on
Release Date:

26 Apr 2024

Original Title:

In The Land Of Saints And Sinners

Since Taken came out in 2008, Liam Neeson has made so many Taken-y movies that that “particular set of skills” is looking less and less “particular” by the minute. Even when he claimed, in 2021, to have quietly retired from the ‘geriaction’ genre, he somehow found room to make several more. In The Land Of Saints And Sinners once again sees Neeson play a character with certain qualities that make him a nightmare for people like you — but it is, to be clear, not just another schlocky B-movie about a grumbly man seeking revenge.

In The Land Of Saints And Sinners

It’s refreshing to see the veteran actor turn off his usual action autopilot and find some texture to a character. He is convincing enough as a man reflecting on a life of violence with contrition: a prolific hitman taking stock of things and wondering if there’s still time to make amends. It’s a well-worn theme that recalls gangster movies like Road To Perdition and Westerns like Unforgiven (this film’s director, Robert Lorenz, was in fact a longtime producer for Clint Eastwood), and while In The Land Of Saints And Sinners rarely approaches those heights, there’s a thematic clarity to it that sets it apart from Neeson’s more recent bargain-basement trends.

Liam Neeson is still as rugged and dependable as rock.

The film is set in Ireland during its most violent period, opening with a heart-stopping sequence involving a car bomb that leaves three children dead. This kind of movie might not be the best forum to confront the pain of The Troubles: the complexity of Ireland’s sectarian politics are only alluded to here, and the IRA characters are rather cartoonishly drawn: lots of swearing and smoking, as might befit a baddie. (Neeson’s character, by contrast, is almost grandfatherly, with a flat cap and a pipe.) But the setting is not incidental: instead of attempting political or historical fiction, it looks to make a broader point about the poisonous nature of cyclical and generational violence, and its corrosive effect on a community.

And while it isn’t especially insightful on Irish history, it makes the most of its setting, with the usual scenery — windswept clifftops, dry stone walls, rolling fields — bolstered by some strong performances. It’s a treat to see actors like Colm Meaney, Ciarán Hinds and Kerry Condon take time off their usual gigs as American-accented characters to return to home turf. In an unexpected highlight, Jack Gleeson — nearly unrecognisable from his time on the Iron Throne as Joffrey Baratheon — puts in a delightfully slimy turn as Finbar’s gangster mentee. And at the centre of it all is Neeson, still as rugged and dependable as rock, still able to elevate this sort of material while making it look effortless.

A solid, old-fashioned Irish Western about what it means to hang up your rifle. It isn’t especially deep, but it’s good to see Liam Neeson find some character depth among the usual shooting and grumbling.
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