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‘Land of Saints and Sinners’ Shows Two Sides of Neeson

Neeson's latest shows push away from pure action theatrics

Liam Neeson’s post-“Taken” career has been a blessing and a curse for the Oscar nominee.

Yes, he works constantly as an in-demand action hero even as he enters his 70s. The films in question are often beneath him, generic tales that barely tap his gifts. There’s less time for films like “Rob Roy,” “Michael Collins” or “Schindler’s List.”

“In the Land of Saints and Sinners” offers a bridge between his cinematic worlds.

It’s more ambitious than recent Neeson titles like “Retribution” and “Blacklight,” and the story cares as much about Ireland’s “Troubles” as bombs or bullets.

Neeson’s character can’t shake his heroic brand, stripping some of the potential from “Saints and Sinners.”

In the Land of Saints and Sinners | Official Trailer | Starring Liam Neeson | NOW IN THEATERS

Neeson plays Finbar Murphy, an assassin living in a small Irish village circa 1974. He’s hardly keen on his line of work, so when one of his victims begs him to reconsider his ways he takes the plea seriously.

It’s time to prove his worth as a person.

The timing of his conversion, sadly, couldn’t be worse. A terrorist IRA trio enters the scene, led by the combustible Doireann McCann (Kerry Condon). They just pulled off a bombing that took the lives of young children, so they’re hiding out until the news fades.

Can Finbar steer clear of Doireann while keeping his murderous past a secret? Well, it wouldn’t be a Neeson film if the answer to both was a resounding, “Yes.”

The film opens with Finbar and a local cop (the great Ciaran Hinds) taking target practice. How is Finbar so good, he wonders without knowing Finbar’s side hustle.

That relationship suggests something more rewarding than recent Neeson outings, but the screenplay by Mark Michael McNally and Terry Loane mostly abandons the thread.

Neeson is more than capable of handling Finbar’s shift from his hired goon days, but “Saints and Sinners” rushes the process along. It’s also unwilling to judge Finbar for his past and treats his moral makeover too glibly.

Far better is Condon, who while shorter than Neeson holds her ground against Finbar. She’s no girlboss, just a self-absorbed soul fighting for her version of family and Ireland.

And too often in that order.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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“Saints and Sinners” boasts a taut, relentless score, and director Robert Lorenz makes good use of Ireland’s gorgeous locales. That care occasionally extends to the story itself, which doles out observations that bring ordinary scenes to life.

Call it texture, something too many films ignore.

The inevitable action sequences play out in an unkempt fashion, giving them both snap and unpredictably. They’re also not why we appreciate what “Saints and Sinners” has to offer.

The Troubles adds another welcome element to the story, a solemn backdrop that makes Condon’s character less monstrous than she might seem otherwise.

“In the Land of Saints and Sinners” doesn’t fully commit to the character study it wants to deliver. Instead, it’s a patchwork film embracing Neeson’s late-action hero turn and the knowledge there’s a reason he’s been working nonstop for the past 30-plus years.

HiT or Miss: “In the Land of Saints and Sinners” offers Liam Neeson a bridge to his previous days as a dramatic actor. Too bad his action movie present keeps getting in the way.

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