Review of the film “In the Land of Saints and Sinners (2023)”

Upon reading the official description, one might get the wrong impression that we are in for a typical grandiose story about an unbeatable retired protagonist who will spend the next hour and a half battling the bad guys, protecting the defenseless residents of the British countryside… Instead, what unfolds before us is emotionally complex, serious cinema with a fairly simple plot but set against the epic landscapes of the Atlantic coast of Ireland.

The film’s events begin in one of the towns in Northern Ireland in 1974 and continue in the picturesque village of Glencolmkill in County Donegal in modern-day Republic of Ireland. Notably, the movie was filmed in these locations and in Dublin, a rarity in the age of CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery) technologies. The premiere took place at the 80th Venice International Film Festival in 2023. To better grasp the plot and understand the context, it’s worth getting acquainted with the history of Northern Ireland in broad strokes to know the reasons for the conflict and the activities of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

In the Land of Saints and Sinners
In the Land of Saints and Sinners

From the first frames of the film, a special mood is felt, immersing us in the atmosphere of the 1970s. Red-bricked buildings, Gothic cathedrals, stone fences with “dry” masonry, thatched-roof houses, gloomy laconic interiors, elements of local community life—all accompanied by a fitting musical score. The cars deserve special attention: from British rare models like Wolseley Hornet Mk3 and Triumph 2000 to the French Citroën DS23 Pallas and even the American Ford Capri 3000. They not only complement the overall picture with their aesthetics but their model and color carry significance for the plot. At the same time, modern filming technologies allow capturing local landscapes from a unique perspective: from the idyllic image of green hills with a network of roads to the Atlantic rocky coastline with solitary beaches.

One could mock the variety of roles and genres Liam Neeson has taken on throughout his rich career, but one cannot deny him one thing—in his acting mastery, the ability to transform into his character, portraying not only the appearance but also conveying the emotional state. Finbarr Murphy is in the process of reevaluating his biography, reflecting on and often questioning the decisions made earlier, trying to move in a different direction. His occasionally sentimental naivety, like when buying seeds in the store or attempting to make his facial expression kinder in the mirror, doesn’t leave one indifferent. On one hand, he is stern and organized at work, on the other hand, he has a slightly unkempt appearance, reflecting his inner world of more uncertainties and ambiguities. Finbarr Murphy can be cold and ruthless “on the job,” but he treats children and animals with compassion and empathy. It’s also interesting to hear how Liam Neeson carefully tries to pronounce the surname “Dostoyevsky” as his character enjoys reading books, and the novel “Crime and Punishment” finds its place in one of the plotlines.

Among the supporting characters, the “workshop colleague” of the main character, Kevin Lynch, played enthusiastically by Jack Gleeson, stands out. With a morbid gaze, occasionally neurotic behavior, playful and casual attitude to the profession of a hitman, Lynch, a man with a complicated fate, listens to quality music on vinyl and dreams of becoming free to start a new life somewhere in sunny California. Equally charismatic is Doireann McCann played by Kerry Condon, who leads a group of IRA representatives, combining harsh leadership qualities with a unique system of moral principles.

Despite all the attributes typical of a true crime thriller, the film even features a romantic storyline, reminding us that it’s never too late to start something new if there are interested parties.

One of the final scenes in a pub, executed in a style reminiscent of classic American westerns, leaves a good impression, although the active use of Italian company “Beretta” products brings the viewer back to 1970s Europe. Contrary to subconscious expectations, the culmination of the plot should be considered not the prolonged shootout in the pub but a brief meaningful conversation in the Gothic cathedral.

Interestingly, some scenes in the film take place against the backdrop of a football match, but not an ordinary one. Gaelic football is featured—a popular sport in Ireland where playing with hands is allowed in certain areas of the field.


“In the Land of Saints and Sinners” is a film with many meanings, serious questions, and complicated answers, recommended for a thoughtful viewing with immersion in the atmosphere to which the creators paid a lot of attention and effort. The film has its own official slogan, but the essence of the film’s morality can be encapsulated in the words Finbarr Murphy says to a little girl named Mya: “Taking care of someone is good, even when it hurts, but it makes you human.”

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