IN THE LAND OF SAINTS AND SINNERS Review: Liam Neeson Tries to Retire His Particular Skills Again

Liam Neeson, Colm Meaney, Ciaran Hinds, and Kerry Condon star in a film directed by Robert Lorenz.

Contributing Writer
IN THE LAND OF SAINTS AND SINNERS Review: Liam Neeson Tries to Retire His Particular Skills Again

In the opening scene of the film, set in 1947 in Northern Ireland, an IRA bombing leaves several people, including children, dead.

The group, led by the determined and unstable Doireann (Kerry Condon), flees to the rural area to hide, where they unknowingly cross paths with Finbar Murphy (Liam Neeson). He’s supposedly just selling books (and currently reading Crime and Punishment), but he has a particular set of skills and, well, you know the rest.

Finbar is a killer for hire who has just recently retired; he is tired of the life of sin (his reading material doesn't really help), so he’s ready to put away his gun for good and maybe plant some phlox. Instead, Finbar soon kills Doireann’s brother, Doireann retaliates, and the whole thing is set into motion, bound to result in a bloodshed.

The fib about the particular set of skills is of course overused, but honestly, so is Liam Neeson as the last action hero. In the years that have passed since Taken (2008), he had a solid run, with some installments unexpected and fun, like Unknown and Non-Stop, but at times it was kind of hard to tell the difference between the rest of it, like, say, Honest Thief, The Marksman, Blacklight or Memory.

So, Neeson’s casting in Robert Lorenz’ film seems both perfect and flawed, especially since Robert Lorenz already directed Neeson in the above-mentioned, very unremarkable The Marksman. Turns out, Lorenz just needed to switch gears, as his heart clearly belongs not to action films – but to Clint Eastwood, with whom he previously often collaborated as a producer and second unit director, and whom he directed in his debut feature, Trouble with the Curve (2012).

At its core, In the Land of Saints and Sinners is a Western with a side of a rural noir. We’ve seen Neeson’s character before; a killer with a gentle soul, a professional who is too old for this shit, he just wants to be really bad at planting gardens, but the past always finds a way to make a comeback, one way or another.

It’s a familiar story, but there are some deviations from the canon. First, there’s some unexpected dark comedy here, mostly thanks to Kerry Condon in a very juicy role, and occasionally thanks to Jack Gleeson, the former Joffrey of Game of Thrones, spotting some unfortunate mustache (it is the 70s after all) and exploiting our expectations that he will be an asshole for sure.

Then, there’s the Irish setting that really brings this whole thing together. Donegal locations inspire the authors to come up with some, not groundbreaking, but pleasing to the eye shots and mise en scenes. People sing. People drink. There is a sense of community here with a pinch of melancholy as these people generally seem to be used to senseless violence and just tend not to have strong reactions to it anymore.

It also seems as if they suspect how Finbar earns his keep and they sort of don’t care, or at least don’t want to know for sure? The small details make this movie work despite a lot of clumsiness in it – from the on the nose score to multiple eye-roll inducing references to Crime and Punishment. “There’s more to me than this”, the protagonist says at some point. We hear you, Liam, and we appreciate you.

The film is now playing in select U.S. theaters, via Samuel Goldwyn Films. Visit the official site for more information. 

In the Land of Saints and Sinners

  • Robert Lorenz
  • Mark Michael McNally
  • Terry Loane
  • Kerry Condon
  • Desmond Eastwood
  • Conor MacNeill
Screen Anarchy logo
Do you feel this content is inappropriate or infringes upon your rights? Click here to report it, or see our DMCA policy.
Ciaran HindsColm MeaneyKerry CondonLiam NeesonRobert LorenzMark Michael McNallyTerry LoaneDesmond EastwoodConor MacNeillActionCrimeThriller

Around the Internet