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THRILL LIKE IT'S 1974: IN THE LAND OF SAINTS AND SINNERS

In The Land Of Saints And Sinners, is a smart, moving thriller, we used to refer as midsized in the eighties. The talent involved is tried and tested, but the budget is just modest enough that the filmmakers can express something a little personal as long as it delivers enough of its genres beats. The market in that decade used to support films like this and some would break out. Now for us adult film goers, The land Of Saints and Sinners will be out of streaming on before the word of mouth can get to one ear.


Liam Neeson leverages his post Taken clout to play a character that seems similar to the aging man of particular set of skills he's done in the last decade, but the story connected to his home country gives the the man and performance and different spin. Set in 1974 Donegal, a town seemingly safe from The Troubles, Neeson plays Finbar Murphy (can there be a more Irish name), a hitman who has decided to put to rest his killer ways. Unfortunately, those ways are the only course of action he knows when a a local girl is being physically abused by her shady visiting uncle. It turns out that he is the bother of Doireann McCann, played by Kerry Condon with the reckless righteousness of a Proud Boy, the head of an IRA crew on lamb for a bombing that mistakenly killed a couple children. Finbar and those he loves are in the groups sights for vengeance.


Not only do you come to care for Finbar's life, but for the community of Donegal as well. Director Robert Lorenz along with writers Mark Michael McNally and Terry Loane weave elements from a village comedy like Local Hero and Waking Ned Devine through the thriller plot. This also comes through with casting of some of the finest Irish actors. Cirian Hinds leads the plyers as Donegal's head constable who ironically is Finbar's closest friend. The decades long relationships between the actors plays on the screen and creates one of the most touching moments invlolving a copy of Crime & Punishment. Niahn Cusack shines with gentle warmth as the neighbor Finbar finally decides to connect with. Colm Meany plays Robert McQue, Finbar's "manager", with a sleazy camaraderie. We have enough time to watch Finbar interact with these people and many others in Donegal That we get to feel for them as much as Finbar does, making the final showdown in that pub even more intense.


The film establishes many of the characters by leaning into their cliche of types, so we quickly know where each stand, then shades them as the story goes on, bringing out their humanity. This is mainly seen with Kevin Lynch's Jack Gleeson, the brash and obnoxious young gun in McQue's stable, becoming more likable as Finbar and we get to know him. Part of this comes from his maturation under Murphy's tutelage and partly from what we learn about him and his past. We hope for the chance of escape offers him near the climax. Even someone as ruthless as Doirean shows a moment of grace with the mother of one of her victims.


Robert Lorenz worked closely with Clint Eastwood for over a decade as a producer and second unit director, even directing him for his debut Trouble With the Curve, and has picked up a lot from the master. He tells the story with an old school confident economy. He and cinematographer Tom Stern (another Eastwood veteran) integrate the grey skies and bring out the earth tones to have us feel the chill of the place while developing certain yellows and browns in many of the interiors to convey the warmth of homes and the pub. The climax in that pub, involving a shoot-out and the placement of a time bomb, he subtly establishes the geography and everyone placed in it, building the tension and delivering thrills in a way the quick cutting of tight shots in the overhyped action film I saw afterward didn't. Not only is the film set in 1974, it feels like a throwback to the thrillers of that era. While delivering an entertaining picture with its share of gunfire, it carries a depth and weight through believable actions and characters.


That said, it's a perfect film for this time. While it properly captures early seventies Ireland with little fuss, it's hard not to think of current Gaza or even incidents in the U.S. With both Finbar and Doirean someone has to pay and the price escalates in the exchange, including the innocent.


In The Land of Saints and Sinners is a classic genre film without irony or playing to self awareness. While you may not get the shared experience that I had in the theater where even a Thursday matinee crowd was involved, it's worth finding on streaming. It's proof they can make them like they used to.



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