Review: ‘In The Land Of Saints And Sinners’

Liam Neeson And Kerry Condon Go To War In A Solid Irish Crime Thriller With Western Flair

I give it up to Liam Neeson for yet another career pivot. Gone are the blockbuster geriatric action flicks that he rode into the ground some years ago. He’s taking a few more risks nowadays, ironically at a time when nobody is paying attention. I haven’t been a fan of most of these efforts, such as his recent turn as legendary private eye Philip Marlowe, but I can appreciate the desire to branch out. He does so this time to surprising success with the Irish thriller In the Land of Saints and Sinners, and when I say Irish I mean this thing pulls out every cultural stereotype and indecipherable accent under the sun. Nary a pint of Guinness goes to waste, nor a jig goes un…jigged.

It’s interesting that, even for a film set in the 1970s against the backdrop of The Troubles, In the Land of Saints and Sinners feels like both a Western and a Liam Neeson actioner. Of course, he plays Finbar, a hitman, but one who no longer gets the same joy out of killing folks. He has a reliable formula for his targets. He walks them out to an isolated spot far away from the city. He makes them dig their own grave, and after dispatching them, he plants a pine tree on the spot. There are a lot of pine trees. But this last victim refuses to beg for his life. Instead, he admits that the violence he did in the past led to this moment. He suggests Finbar do something better with his life before it’s too late. His final words hit home. Finbar suggests to his handler (Colm Meaney, always playing Colm Meaney) that he should give any future jobs to an eager young fella (Jack Gleeson), while he goes home and starts a garden.

Finbar lives a quiet existence in a town far away from the Protestant/Catholic fighting, but the war comes to them anyway. Kerry Condon is tremendous as Doireann, a psycho IRA member hiding out there after a Dublin bombing gone awry. Condon growls and throws around the C-word a lot, playing the type of character you love to hate and hate to love. She’s a horrible human being bringing pain into the world, but she has an ideology to explain it all away. She never sees herself as the villain.

It’s the abuses by one of Doireann’s crew against the daughter of one of Finbar’s friends that sparks the central conflict. There’s a lot of hanging out in pubs and dinners between Finbar and the neighbor lady he’s quietly sweet on. Because there can’t be an Irish movie without either Meaney or Ciaran Hinds, the latter shows up as a Garda officer who is blissfully ignorant of Finbar’s criminal ways. But soon the whole town will know, because Finbar’s quest for redemption collides head-on with the immoral Doireann who has never met a rival she didn’t want to blow away.

Director Robert Larenz, a longtime associate of Clint Eastwood who directed him in Trouble with the Curve and Neeson on The Marksman, can turn just about any film into one that resembles a Western. He employs the masculine score of a frontier drama, and shapes the sweeping Irish hills and gorgeous coastal shots into the battleground for a potential shootout. There isn’t always as much tension as the film wants there to be, and the screenplay by Mark Michael McNally and Terry Loane leads Neeson down a familiar, cliche path. But Neeson and Condon are both really strong here. She’s a violent force of nature. He’s stoic and mournful. There’s something about Irish actors getting to work in their homeland that they bring a little something extra. In the Land of Saints and Sinners is better for having both of them. It’s a solid Neeson thriller with a bit of a twist, and one of the best he’s done in years. Things get very bloody in the final stretch. A lot of people die, bombs go off, but in the ensuing chaos one guy still stops to grab his unfinished beer. Yeah, that tracks.

In the Land of Saints and Sinners is in theaters now.

In the Land of Saints and Sinners
Travis Hopson
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.
review-in-the-land-of-saints-and-sinnersI give it up to Liam Neeson for yet another career pivot. Gone are the blockbuster geriatric action flicks that he rode into the ground some years ago. He's taking a few more risks nowadays, ironically at a time when nobody is paying attention....