THE STORY – Ireland, 1970s. Eager to leave his dark past behind, Finbar Murphy leads a quiet life in the remote coastal town of Glencolmcille, far from the political violence that grips the rest of the country. When a menacing crew of terrorists arrive, led by a ruthless woman named Doirean, Finbar soon discovers that one of them has been abusing a local young girl. Drawn into an increasingly vicious game of cat and mouse, Finbar must choose between exposing his secret identity or defending his friends and neighbors.
THE CAST – Liam Neeson, Kerry Condon, Jack Gleeson, Colm Meaney, Ciarán Hinds & Sarah Greene
THE TEAM – Robert Lorenz (Director), Mark Michael McNally & Terry Loane (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 106 Minutes
Typically, when watching a film starring Liam Neeson, expectations are not set at the highest of standards. Unfortunately, his career as of late has been marred by so many “Taken” rip-offs that his standing as a leading man has become a mark of diminished quality at this point. In truth, when one hears even the basic outline of “In the Land of Saints and Sinners,” there is immediate apprehension that this could very well fall into the same tiresome tropes presented before. It is with great thanks that the film manages to avoid that tone entirely. What is presented here instead is not only an engaging story but also an endearing turn from this actor that has been elusive for quite some time.
Set in the tumultuous era of 1970s Ireland, Neeson plays Finbar Murphy, an aging gun-for-hire who has now been disillusioned with his line of work. He vows retirement and aims to settle down in the quiet village he resides within. Unfortunately, trouble does not stop following him, thanks to the invasion of a small gang of IRA members hiding out after a recent car bombing. Their paths cross because one of the members is a distant relative of a family that Murphy is friendly with, and evidence shows he has been hurting the small girl. After the dispatching, his ruthlessly cruel sister, Doirean (Kerry Condon), sets her sights on discovering what happened to her brother and eliminating the responsible parties. It’s up to Murphy to make sure this bloody conflict ends before any more innocent parties are caught in the crossfire.
As stated, it’s quite a novel experience to witness a current performance from Liam Neeson and not be forced to endure tedium. Here is a portrayal that has such a greater sense of life and passion within it. There is almost a deliberate attempt to sidestep the ridiculous nature of a man in such a physical state, still trying to be an indestructible action hero. The fact that he’s essentially playing a retiree already shows a more authentic persona, which ultimately allows for a charming and endearing screen presence to emerge. This won’t go down as one of Neeson’s greatest turns, but given what has been populating his filmography for the last decade or so, this is undeniably a significant improvement.
Fortunately, the supporting cast is just as compelling. The standout would have to go to Condon, who arguably gives the best performance in the film. Much like “The Banshees of Inisherin,” every moment she is on screen is exciting and purely magnetic. Here, she inhabits a character who is ruthless in her goals and will resort to any means necessary to accomplish the task of a free Ireland. One doesn’t sympathize with her, but Condon makes her a fascinating character. Her meanness is always alluring, and the film really comes alive whenever her fiery tenacity is revealed. She plays a true villain, but one that is layered enough to be captivating. The rest of the supporting cast has some fine players, including Ciarán Hinds, Jack Gleeson, and Colm Meaney, but it’s Condon who steals the whole show.
The efforts of director Robert Lorenz seem to just ensure this material is as engrossing as possible. While nothing from a filmmaking standpoint is particularly noteworthy, Lorenz does a credible job of keeping the pace moving at a speed that maintains an entertaining atmosphere. The pretty landscapes are well-captured, and the incredible score sets the mood of bombastic tension very successfully. The screenplay from Mark Michael McNally and Terry Lone feels a little rushed in its set-up and indulges in some too neatly arranged storytelling choices, but overall, the narrative is enthralling from start to finish. The characters may have somewhat basic outlines, but they are a solid foundation to build an amusing exhibition.
“In the Land of Saints and Sinners” does indulge in some dark subject matter, but it fortunately knows how to explore such terrain in a pleasing manner. The filmmaking and story may not be the most revolutionary, but they adequately serve the main functions of creating an absorbing portrait. The film has a pleasing aura that one can become easily invested in, and this is aided by the strong performances of the cast, but in particular, Neeson and Condon. On the subject of the former, it’s just so refreshing to watch a new endeavor that breaks free from the monotonous mold that is overly familiar at this point. Here’s hoping this is a new trend for an actor who gets to show how gifted he can be when given the chance.