In the Land of Saints and Sinners

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

In the Land of Saints and Sinners
dir Robert Lorenz
scr Mark Michael McNally, Terry Loane
prd Bonnie Timmermann, Philip Lee, Markus Barmettler, Kieran Corrigan
with Liam Neeson, Kerry Condon, Jack Gleeson, Ciaran Hinds, Colm Meaney, Sarah Greene, Desmond Eastwood, Niamh Cusack, Conor MacNeill, Seamus O'Hara, Anne Brogan, Valentine Olukoga
release UK 11.Dec.23, US 29.Mar.24
23/Ireland 1h46

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An escalating thriller set at the height of sectarian violence in Ireland, this film is sharply written and played, with involving characters and gripping intrigue. Director Robert Lorenz takes a straightforward approach that may feel somewhat unambitious, but it gives the story a razor-sharp clarity, honing in on a series of grisly events. Thankfully, the script includes plenty of offhanded humour alongside the churning nastiness, providing a riveting authenticity.
On the western coast of Ireland in 1974, Finbar (Neeson) is enjoying the quiet village life away from the religious-political violence that's rocking the nation. But Finbar is finding it difficult to distance himself from his own shady involvement in the conflict. Then he discovers a group of terrorists hiding out nearby, led by the fearsome Doireann (Condon). And Finbar decides to clean house, getting unlikely help from Kevin (Gleeson), an unstable thug who works for local boss Robert (Meaney), Finbar's old cohort. Sure enough, Finbar is soon on a perilous collision course with Doireann.
All of the people in this place have lost family members during the Troubles, and they express their grief and anger in varying ways, usually by pointing a gun at someone. Colourful characters abound, each with his or her own story, so as the film progresses it begins to feel like we know almost everyone in this village, including the warm-hearted cop (Hinds), a friendly neighbour (Cusack) and a sassy barkeep (Greene).

In a role that plays to his movie persona, Neeson is relaxed and cool as he sets out to rid his peaceful community of these brutal goons. He barely breaks a sweat in the role, and effortlessly holds the audience's sympathies. Condon brings a scary intensity to Doireann, a true believer in the cause whose temper is likely to get the best of her. Gleeson is also excellent as the keen young guy looking for action and meaning.

The carnage is considerable in this film, reflecting the attitudes of people who don't hesitate to take a life because they feel they are in the right. This gives the movie a Wild West sensibility, especially in the final act as things head into a messy, genuinely unnerving extended shootout. And then there are the running references to Dostoyevsky, which are far too subtle to have any real meaning but add a nice echo in a place where criminality and redemption collide.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 28.Mar.24

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© 2024 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall