Review: Liam Neeson bang on target with Troubles thriller In The Land of Saints and Sinners on Netflix

David Roy discovers that the new Liam Neeson action thriller In The Land of Saints and Sinners is much better than you might have heard, and picks three other top entries from the Co Antrim star’s ‘geriaction’ canon...

Liam Neeson in In The Land of Saints and Sinners
Liam Neeson is back in action mode, this time with his own accent

HAVING taken – pun intended – fans by surprise with the unexpectedly character-driven dramatics of last year’s ‘better than it needed to be’ car bomb/chase thriller Retribution, Liam Neeson (71) is back with another cut-above entry which proves that action and acting don’t have to be mutually exclusive entities.

Capably helmed by Clint Eastwood regular Robert Lorenz (who previously directed Neeson in The Marksman), In The Land of Saints and Sinners got a decidedly lukewarm reaction from critics when it opened in the US last year, but the Co Donegal-shot flick is actually much, much better than its initially dismal low-20-something Rotten Tomatoes score suggested.

Thankfully, this RT rating has now been bolstered by a fresh flood of more positive notices from this side of the pond: it’s up to a much more respectable 82 per cent ‘fresh’ at time of press, and definitely has plenty to offer those in the mood for another dose of Liam Neeson doling out justice with extreme prejudice.

Penned by Terry Loane (Mickybo & Me) and Mark Michael McNally, Neeson’s latest actioner is an entertaining neo-Western thriller with underlying themes concerning whether rogues can ever truly find redemption and the fruitlessness of the whole ‘an eye for an eye’ thing that made the Troubles such a black hole of unrelenting despair.

Ciarán Hinds and Liam Neeson in In The Land of The Saints of Sinners
Ciarán Hinds and Liam Neeson

Set in 1974, In The Land of Saints and Sinners centres on Finbar (Neeson), a reclusive widower living on the outskirts of Glencolmcille who is leading a double life – mild-mannered bookseller by day/’bone man’ (no, me neither – it means ‘hitman’) for hire by night. Those blissfully ignorant of Finbar’s murderous activities include his friendly over-the-road neighbour, Rita (Niamh Cusack), and his chum, Vinnie (Ciarán Hinds), a gardaí and fellow British army war veteran.

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Liam Neeson as Finbar in In The Land of Saints of Sinners
Liam Neeson as Finbar

When one particular job gives Finbar pause for thought about the course his life has taken, he duly resolves to hang up his trusty shotgun and informs his agent, the slippery Robert (Colm Meaney), that he’ll no longer be using human remains as tree fertiliser. Instead, a quiet life of more conventional gardening beckons, with Robert left to rely on the services of flashy young killer, Kevin (Jack ‘Joffrey’ Gleeson), to do his bidding.

Of course, this being a movie, we know Finbar’s retirement is going to short-lived: sure enough, his epiphany coincides with a trio of IRA bombers landing into town to hide-out in the wake of a Belfast pub blast which killed passing innocents.

Desmond Eastwood as Curtis in In The Land of The Saints of Sinners
Desmond Eastwood as Curtis

This quartet is led by the fearsome Doireann (Kerry Condon), whose bomber brother, Curtis (played with broad Belfast-accented glee by Desmond Eastwood), is a particularly nasty piece of work with a predilection for hurting those who can’t defend themselves – like his own niece, Moya (Michelle Gleeson), the young daughter of his sister-in-law Sinéad (Sarah Greene), whose land they are laying low on.

Once Finbar spots the bruises all over this wee dote, Curtis’s days are numbered.

The ‘RA man’s inevitable disappearance sets Doireann on the warpath, and Finbar is forced into an uneasy alliance with Kevin in order to try and survive the ensuing manhunt which – spoilers – culminates in an explosion of violence.

While there are regular, occasionally shocking reminders throughout In The Land of Saints and Sinners that it’s an action film about habitual killers playing a deadly game of cat and mouse, there are plenty of quieter character moments too, where Neeson gets to enjoy flexing his Thespian muscles in scenes opposite his equally capable pals Hinds and Meaney – plus the usual value-adding ruggedness of the Co Donegal scenery, which Robert Lorenz eagerly captures via drone and wide shot to atmospheric effect.

Kerry Condon as Doireann in In The Land of Saints and Sinners
Kerry Condon as Doireann

Condon gives good villain as a conflict-hardened zealot whose mouth is as foul as her moral compass, while Jack Gleeson – apparently channelling a young Feargal Sharkey – also makes a lasting impression as a charismatic, Capri-driving killer who’s been groomed for gun work by the opportunistic Robert.

Jack Gleeson and Liam Neeson in In The Land of Saints and Sinners
Jack Gleeson and Liam Neeson

Indeed, the excellent ensemble cast – which also includes Oscar-winner Seamus O’Hara as one of the IRA bombers – help to elevate this film, as does the fact that Neeson has ditched his usual mid-Atlantic twang for a change.

Forget what you may have heard: it would be a sin to miss this one.

In The Land of Saints and Sinners is available on Netflix from Friday April 26.
Ciarán Hinds as Vinnie in In The Land of The Saints of Sinners
Ciarán Hinds as Vinnie


THE big man from Ballymena has made the most of his unlikely late-career boon as a geriaction hero, but sadly not every film has been a winner.

Here’s our top three direct hits to put at the top of your watch/re-watch list.

Taken (2008)
Liam Neeson in Taken
Liam Neeson kick-started his action career with this 2008 Euro-thriller

THE one that started it all, Pierre Morel’s Euro-thriller finds Neeson playing a veteran spook with “a very particular set of skills”, not to mention serious daddy issues in the form of his wayward U2-loving daughter who probably shouldn’t have been allowed out of the house much less to go and see Bono and co in Paris with her equally ditzy teen pal.

It’s well-paced, enjoyably action-packed hokum, though the surprise hit’s sex-trafficking subplot remains jarringly grim - and the less said about its pair of sequels, the better.

The Grey (2011)
Liam Neeson battles wild wolves in The Grey
Liam Neeson battles wild wolves in The Grey

AKA Liam Neeson: Wolf Puncher, Joe Carnahan’s snow-bound survival tale remains a tense watch even after repeated viewings, as Neeson and a steadily shrinking bunch of plane crash survivors attempt to keep a bunch of big bad wolves at bay long enough to be rescued.

Another actioner where the big man’s acting chops get as much of a work-out as his muscles, this is top-tier B-movie fare – and eagle-eyed viewers will spot that it’s set in the same universe as producer Ridley Scott’s Alien.

Darkman (1990)
Liam Neeson as Dr Peyton Westlake in 1990's Darkman
Liam Neeson as Dr Peyton Westlake in 1990's Darkman

SAM Raimi’s alternative superhero flick should have shot Neeson to A-list action hero fame over three decades ago, but sadly it wasn’t to be. A comicbook-style caper about a scientist out for revenge against the mobsters who caused him painful disfigurement, Darkman did well at the box office but never quite took off, thanks to studio meddling and the fact that its central character was not an established Marvel or DC figure.

The Evil Dead director had better blockbuster luck a decade later with his Spider-Man trilogy, but Darkman remains an intriguing and entertaining ‘what if?’ on both his and Neeson’s CV.