In the Land of Saints and Sinners

In the Land of Saints and Sinners

2024, R, 106 min. Directed by Robert Lorenz. Starring Liam Neeson, Kerry Condon, Colm Meaney, Desmond Eastwood, Conor MacNeill, Ciarán Hinds, Niamh Cusack, Jack Gleeson.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., March 29, 2024

Once in a while, Liam Neeson awakens from his post-Taken torpor of interchangeable aging action men and reminds us that he can actually act. We get a Silence or his wonderful vocal role as the titular beast in A Monster Calls, but as he churns through immemorable projects at a pace that would put tax-problems era Nic Cage to shame, separating the golden grains from the grey chaff gets tougher and tougher. Yet if there was a project that morally obligated him to turn up and do the work, it may be In the Land of Saints and Sinners, a brutal drama set against the Troubles in Northern Ireland and how they crept back into Eire.

This is the Seventies of nylon jackets and comb overs, and the Ireland of sudden and random violence. Reuniting with The Marksman director Robert Lorenz, Neeson plays Finbar Murphy, a man with plenty of blood on his hands. He’s the fella that makes you disappear, your body marked only by a freshly planted sapling. Of course, he’s burned out by the stench of gunpowder, so he plans to turn away from murder for hire and instead take up ... something. Flowers, a dalliance with the soon-to-be-widow next door (a gutsy but tender Cusack), some kind of happy-ever-after fantasy. “This is all you know,” scoffs fixer Robert McQue (Meaney at his charming and brutal best), and it’s all anyone knows about Murphy. It’s the unstated reality of him, that everyone in the tiny rural town he lives in knows he’s making a living somehow and it’s best not to pry. Of course, an IRA bomb unit decides to hide out in his little slice of Atlantic coastal heaven just as he’s decided to not be who he is.

Violence is in the soil of The Land of Saints and Sinners. When it erupts, it’s brief and cruel and utterly destructive. Most importantly, it’s completely deromanticized. The script from Mark Michael McNally and Terry Loane refuses to take simple political sides, instead adding more personal justifications to why Doireann McCann (a brittle and cruel performance by Condon) ends up planting bombs in pubs and turning a blind eye to her abusive idiot brother, Curtis (Eastwood). But is it really that different to how the local Garda (the always excellent Hinds) turns a blind eye to whatever it is that Finbar’s been up to? Moreover, the script points to how the romantic idea of small-town Ireland sat at odds with the horrific bloodshed inflicted in its name, and how the terrorists who claimed to defend it were responsible for bringing carnage back across the border.

This isn’t Schindler’s List Neeson, but as a Northern Irish Catholic he brings a weight and pathos of personal connection to these horrors. The inevitable bloody gunfight has no catharsis to it, allowing the now veteran (in so many senses of the word) action actor to play against what has increasingly become type. Lorenz may undercut his efforts a little by none-too-subtle musical stings that evoke Ennio Morricone’s compositions for Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns (moreover, the inclusion of Jack Gleeson as Murphy’s younger, cockier replacement renders the themes of age and regret blindingly obvious). But Neeson’s quietness doesn’t simply come across as tough guy silence. Instead, there’s a maudlin introspection that bears surprisingly meaningful fruit.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

In the Land of Saints and Sinners, Robert Lorenz, Liam Neeson, Kerry Condon, Colm Meaney, Desmond Eastwood, Conor MacNeill, Ciarán Hinds, Niamh Cusack, Jack Gleeson

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