Review: 'In the Land of Saints and Sinners,' where Liam Neeson once again has his vengeance

At this point, it’s hack to refer to Liam Neeson’s “very particular set of skills,” but there’s no denying that the actor has made his bread and butter parlaying just that during the past 15 years, playing variations on a theme in an array of B-movie thrillers. Neeson has enacted bloody revenge on a train, on a plane, in the snow, on a ranch and now, in his native land, with “In the Land of Saints and Sinners,” a thriller set in Ireland during the Troubles, directed by Robert Lorenz, Clint Eastwood’s longtime producer and the director of the 2021 Neeson film “The Marksman.”

We open in Belfast in 1974, just moments before a car bombing takes six lives, including those of several children. The perpetrators, a group of Irish Republican Army foot soldiers, beat a hasty retreat for a small village, Glencolmcille in County Donegal. It just so happens to be the same place where Finbar Murphy (Neeson) has been trying to retire from a secretive life as a hit man.

This unique geographic, historical and political milieu confers a certain intrigue to this otherwise familiar fare, but the story itself is pure Western, the classic genre explicitly referenced in the plaintive score by sibling composers Diego, Nora and Lionel Baldenweg, and in the seasoned narrative beats of the script by Mark Michael McNally and Terry Loane.

Finbar is the longtime gunfighter who works by a strict moral code, looking to finally hang up his spurs and domesticate himself. When a group of baddies invade his small town and rough up the vulnerable residents, he has to put his talents to use one last time in order to protect the homestead.

Colm Meaney co-stars as Finbar’s broker, Ciarán Hinds as the local Garda (basically a sheriff) unaware of his friend’s line of work, and Jack Gleeson of “Game of Thrones” is unrecognizable as a merry young hit man with a blackly Irish sense of humor. But the most terrifying person on screen is Kerry Condon, playing the steely IRA warrior Doireann McCann (possibly inspired by the notorious Dolours Price), the leader of the gang who has brought her cohort to Glencolmcille. When her loathsome brother Curtis (Desmond Eastwood) goes missing, Doireann emerges from hiding with vengeance in her heart.

Condon was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Martin McDonagh’s 2022 “The Banshees of Inisherin,” a film that took a glancing metaphorical approach to its Troubles themes. “In the Land of Saints and Sinners” is direct and obvious. This longtime national conflict comes home to roost in a small town, and while the hero and antagonist are far more similar than they think, sharing the same kind of fierce loyalty to their loved ones and personal beliefs, their goals put them at odds with each other. The political conflict is simultaneously simple but abstracted from the blood that soaks the streets of this small village.

There’s no profound political commentary in “In the Land of Saints and Sinners,” the setting providing the background and plot stakes. This is a true Western tale set among the rolling green hills of Ireland, the landscape captured beautifully by cinematographer Tom Stern. Condon is utterly captivating as a brutal villain, and no one plays a valiantly chagrined hero like Neeson, sorrowful and suffering. In the “Neeson skills” canon, “In the Land of Saints and Sinners” proves to be a gem, the performances elevating a enjoyably pulpy thriller.

Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.

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