September 27, 2023



‘In the Land of Saints & Sinners’ falls short, despite Liam Neeson’s strong performance, due to an overuse of Irish clichés.

‘In the Land of Saints & Sinners’ falls short, despite Liam Neeson’s strong performance, due to an overuse of Irish clichés.

Kerry Condon, Colm Meaney, and Ciarán Hinds join the cast of Robert Lorenz’s Western-influenced thriller, which pits a secluded hitman against a determined IRA terrorist in its Venice premiere.

In Robert Lorenz’s ‘In the Land of Saints & Sinners,’ Irish clichés and caricatures abound, with scenes of gunfire disrupting a village pub. Much like ‘Wild Mountain Thyme,’ this film heavily embraces Emerald Isle stereotypes. Despite this, Liam Neeson, portraying a pipe-smoking, Dostoevsky-reading assassin, maintains a serious tone. Kerry Condon’s performance as an IRA member with a penchant for strong language adds some intrigue. However, the film suffers from excessive writing and melodrama, likely relegating it to streaming platforms.

Although the movie is placed within the tumultuous context of 1974 during The Troubles, the bitter political conflict serves as little more than a decorative backdrop. The script, penned by Mark Michael McNally and Terry Loane, adheres to a formulaic faux-Western style and is riddled with contrivances. It undermines its efforts to convey realism with clichéd and overly cinematic elements.

In this film, we witness a wounded antagonist making a dramatic journey across a field toward an old stone church perched dramatically on a hilltop. His intent is less about seeking absolution and more about finding an atmospheric place to meet his demise, surrounded by the ambient glow of countless flickering votive candles. Additionally, the movie introduces a young hitman who aspires to pursue music in California, expressing a longing for the freedom and enjoyment of life he perceives there.

The story begins with Kerry Condon’s character, the ruthless Doireann, leading a small team in executing a pub bombing in Belfast. However, things don’t go as planned, resulting in the tragic death of a mother and her three young schoolchildren who happened to be passing by. This forces the IRA operatives to go underground and seek refuge in County Donegal, located in the south. This relocation offers breathtaking vistas of rolling green landscapes, towering cliffs, and stunning coastal scenery, all beautifully captured by cinematographer Tom Stern through expansive wide shots and breathtaking aerial views.

Liam Neeson portrays Finbar Murphy, who leads a tranquil life in the charming village of Gleann Colm Cille. Unsurprisingly, the local pub serves as the heart of the community, where fiddlers play lively tunes while patrons savor drinks like Guinness (and Babycham for the ladies) and occasionally engage in spirited jigs. Finbar occupies his time by testing his marksmanship skills in friendly competitions with the local Garda officer, Vinnie (Ciarán Hinds), or by admiring his neighbor Rita’s (Niamh Cusack) garden, politely declining her dinner invitations.

The former Army man, well-liked in town, conceals his true identity as an assassin. Under the guidance of his handler, Robert (played by Colm Meaney in his typical Colm Meaney fashion), he discreetly eliminates various unsavory individuals, cleansing the country of its scum.

Finbar has a preferred location for disposing of his victims. Here, he instructs them to dig their own graves and grants them a moment for final thoughts before dispatching them with a rifle, symbolically planting a pine tree at the site. The number and height of these trees in the vicinity serve as a morbid indicator of his time in the profession.

However, an unexpected turn of events occurs during one assignment when the target, in his confessional moments, reflects on redeeming himself and contributing positively to his community. This prompts Finbar to have a contemplative moment, leading him to inform Robert that he’s retiring from the killing business. He suggests that future assignments should be handed to Kevin (played by Jack Gleeson), a junior associate whom he views as inexperienced and frivolous when it comes to taking lives. Kevin is the one with dreams of California, but as seasoned moviegoers know, such aspirations don’t typically end well.

Finbar is reluctantly drawn back into the fray when he notices signs of physical abuse on Moya (played by Michelle Gleeson), a sweet young girl, and the daughter of the pub bartender, Sinéad (portrayed by Sarah Greene). As it turns out, Sinéad was once married to Doireann’s brother until his unfortunate demise. Now, Doireann and her associates have sought refuge in a nearby shack, and it’s Sinéad’s shady brother, Curtis (played by Desmond Eastwood), who has been mistreating Moya. Everyone knows you don’t mess with a child when Liam Neeson is around.

When Finbar takes matters into his capable hands, Doireann becomes infuriated and swears vengeance, even if it means confronting half the village.

Robert Lorenz, a seasoned producer for Clint Eastwood, had previously directed Neeson in the 2021 action thriller, “The Marksman.” In this film, the American director employs a bold and grandiose score by the Baldenweg siblings (Diego, Nora, and Lionel) to infuse some semblance of suspense into a narrative that lacks it, creating the atmosphere of a Western showdown between a ruthless villain devoid of morality and an antihero on a path to redemption. This journey entails emerging from hiding among the people who have cared for and trusted him.

Neeson does his utmost to bring integrity to his character, portraying a weary nobility, while Condon adopts a stern and menacing demeanor, likely yearning for the memorable dialogue of Martin McDonagh’s work. Nonetheless, the script is inundated with clichés, and the film falls short of excitement despite the presence of numerous firearms, knives, and bombs. The most positive aspect of “In the Land of Saints & Sinners” is its authentic Irish cast, ensuring genuine accents, although the same cannot be said for much else.

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Ralph Calaway