Review: ‘In the Land of Saints and Sinners,’ starring Liam Neeson, Kerry Condon, Jack Gleeson, Colm Meaney and Ciarán Hinds

March 30, 2024

by Carla Hay

Jack Gleeson and Liam Neeson in “In the Land of Saints and Sinners” (Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films)

“In the Land of Saints and Sinners”

Directed by Robert Lorenz

Culture Representation: Taking place in Northern Ireland, the dramatic film “In the Land of Saints and Sinners” features a predominantly white group of people (with one black person) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A seemingly mild-mannered book dealer in a small town is really undercover, with a mission to kill terrorists from the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Culture Audience: “In the Land of Saints and Sinners” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in movies about the IRA and are fans of star Liam Neeson and the crime dramas that he has been churning out on a regular basis.

Kerry Condon in “In the Land of Saints and Sinners” (Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films)

“In the Land of Saints and Sinners” is exactly the type of movie that it appears to be. Just like almost every Liam Neeson movie with gun shootouts and other violence, this crime drama (which takes place in 1974 Northern Ireland) is very predictable. The talented cast’s credible performances elevate the formulaic story. Although it’s not a very original story, “In the Land of Saints and Sinners” is at least a straightforward and uncomplicated film that should satisfy people who are inclined to like this type of movie.

Directed by Robert Lorenz, “In the Land of Saints and Sinners” was written by Mark Michael McNally and Terry Loane. The movie had its world premiere at the 2023 Venice International Film Festival. At this point in Neeson’s career, he has been in “shuffle and repeat” mode in his movies, by playing the same type of character, but with different names and locations. Neeson’s typecast role is a brooding loner with a “particular set of skills” from a shady past, and he’s usually on a mission as a vigilante, agent, assassin or other “fill-in-the blank” gun-toter, who’s undercover or has gone rogue.

In “The Land of Saints and Sinners,” Neeson has the role of Finbar Murphy, a widower who seems to be a mild-mannered book dealer in the rural coastal town of Glencolmcille, Northern, Ireland. At home (where Finbar’s only companion is a cat), when Finbar is not puttering around his garden, he’s mildly flirting with his friendly widow neighbor Rita (played by Niamh Cusack) or having amiable chats with a local garda named Vincent O’Shea (played by Ciarán Hinds), who sometimes stops by for visits. Finbar and Vincent also hang out at a local pub, where they strike up an acquaintance with an African immigrant named Hasan Bello (played by Valentine Olukoga), a fiddler who is often part of the pub’s entertainment.

But trouble comes to Glencolmcille in the form of violent terrorists from the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which is fighting for Northern Ireland to be independent from the United Kingdom. Some of these IRA terrorists are hiding out in Glencolmcille, after setting off a car bomb in Belfast. This bombing (which is shown in the beginning of the movie), killed six people, including three children.

The leader of these fugitive terrorists is Doireann McCann (played by Kerry Condon), a callous and scheming manipulator, who’s not afraid of engaging in the same brutal violence that she expects her subordinates to inflict. The other people in Doireann’s crew are loyal henchmen Curtis June (played by Desmond Eastwood), quick-tempered Conan McGrath (played by Conor MacNeill) and hulking brute Séamus McKenna (played by Seamus O’Hara), who are all farly generic characters in a movie like this one. Condon is compelling to watch as the ruthless Doireann, who is volatile enough to make this movie’s viewers curious to see what she will do next.

“In the Land of Saints and Sinners” reveals very early on in the movie that Finbar is not as mild-mannered and squeaky-clean as he would like to appear to the community. There’s a scene showing that Finbar has kidnapped an unnamed official (played by Tim Landers), who is being held in the trunk of a car. Finbar drives the car to remote area, forces the man to dig his own grave, and then shoots the man.

Later, Finbar gets paid by cash in an envelope given to him by a local police officer named Robert McQue (played by Colm Meaney), who obviously hired Finbar to commit this murder. Finbar’s motives for becoming an assassin are murky for most of the film, but it’s pretty clear that he’s gotten involved in corrupt government dealings. In other words, Finbar is a typical Neeson movie character with gray areas of morality and ethics.

But just like a typical Neeson movie character, Finbar isn’t completely hardened and has a “softer side” to him. After he gets paid by Robert, Finbar says to Robert: “There’s more to me than this. I’d like folks to see it. I could plant a garden.” Finbar adds. “Are you going to miss me?” Robert replies, “Like a hole in the head.”

Finbar shows he has a “tough but tender” heart when he befriends a local girl named Moya (played by Michelle Gleeson), who is about 8 or 9 years old and is being physically abused by her domineering single father. In addition, Finbar develops a mentor-like relationship with a local young man named Kevin Lynch (played by Jack Gleeson, no relation to Michelle Gleeson), who is restless and bored in Glencolmcille and is looking for some action. Finbar’s paternal approach to Moya and Kevin are Finbar’s way of trying the ease Finbar’s feelings of guilt of his own failings as a father.

“In the Land of Saints and Sinners” (which has very good cinematography from Tom Stern) sometimes lumbers along at a sluggish pace, but the movie has an engaging authenticity with the dialogue and characters—unlike most of Neeson’s action films that have nonsensical plots and ridiculous characters who say and do stupid things. Because “In the Land of Saints and Sinners” reveals early on that Finbar is undercover with a false identity, there’s no mystery about what his intentions are and what he will do in the inevitable showdown between Finbar and the terrorists. There isn’t a bad performance in the movie, but “In the Land of Saints and Sinners” is the type of film where you know how it’s going to end within the first 15 minutes after the movie begins.

Samuel Goldwyn Films released “In the Land of Saints and Sinners” in U.S. cinemas on March 29, 2024.

Review: ‘Nightride’ (2022), starring Moe Dunford

May 13, 2022

by Carla Hay

Mo Dunford in “Nightride” (Photo courtesy of Belfast Still Department/Brainstorm Media)

Nightride” (2022)

Directed by Stephen Fingleton

Culture Representation: Taking place in Northern Ireland, the dramatic film “Nightride” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A man who wants to leave his criminal lifestyle behind decides to do one last drug deal, but things go horribly wrong. 

Culture Audience: “Nightride” will appeal primarily to people who like watching crime dramas with unusual settings, since “Nightride” takes place mostly in a car.

Gerard Jordan and Moe Dunford in “Nightride” (Photo by David Bird and Stephen Fingleton/Brainstorm Media)

Not too many movies can make a lively thriller out of a story that’s mostly a series of phone calls, but “Nightride” succeeds in doing so. The movie overcomes some crime drama clichés with a riveting lead performance by Moe Dunford. Dunford is literally front and center for almost all of the movie’s screen time, which primarily features his “Nightride” character Budge talking on the phone, usually in his car. When Budge gets out of his car, it’s usually for a reason that adds to the tension in the story.

Directed by Stephen Fingleton and written by Ben Conway, “Nightride” takes place over the course of one night, somewhere in an unnamed urban part of Northern Ireland. Budge has been making money selling illegal drugs as a mid-level drug dealer, but he’s about to quit the drug trade to open a legitimate business with a good friend of his named Graham (voiced by Paul Kennedy), who is only heard in the movie through phone conversations. And yes, “Nightride” is one of those crime dramas were the protagonist wants to do “one last crime caper” before “going straight.”

Budge and Graham plan to open an auto body shop called Nightride Auto Body, which Budge describes as a place that will offer “bespoke” custom jobs. The two pals have a meeting scheduled to take place the next morning at a bank, to pay back £60,000 in cash that they owe on a bank loan to purchase the business. If Budge and Graham default on the loan, they lose all the money that has already been paid for the loan, and they’ll lose this chance to start the business. Graham’s parents mortgaged their house to help Budge and Graham as a business investment, so Graham feels extra pressure to make sure that this bank deal goes smoothly.

Budge plans to get the money by doing one last drug deal that will give him the cash that he and Graham need. Graham knows that Budge has been involved in criminal activities, but he has a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes discussing it with Budge. All Graham knows is that Budge has promised him that no matter what happens that night, it will end with Graham getting the £60,000 in cash that they need. Budge has also promised Graham that it will be the last time he does anything criminal before they open their auto body shop.

Budge’s girlfriend Sofia (played by Joana Ribeiro), a Ukrainian immigrant, knows all of Budge’s plans, and she wants him to leave the criminal life behind too. Before Budge gets in his car to do the drug deal, Sofia tells him, “Don’t get lifted [slang for arrested]. Once you do this, you’ll be out. We’ll both be out.” Needless to say, Budge, Sofia and Graham are feeling very anxious, but Budge tries to hide his nervousness with a cool and confident manner.

They won’t be the only ones on edge about this drug deal. The plan is for two of Budge’s cohorts named Lefty (played by John Travers) and Beaker (played by “Nightride” director Fingleton) to pick up the drug supply in a van that has 50 kilograms of the drug. The name of the drug is not named in the movie. Lefty and Beaker are then supposed to drive the van to some Ukrainian gangsters, who will buy the drug supply, and give Budge’s henchmen the cash, which Lefty and Beaker they will hand over to Budge. Lefty and Beaker are supposed to get a pre-arranged cut of the cash as payment for their help.

And why isn’t Budge doing the delivery himself? He suspects that he’s under surveillance by law enforcement, so he doesn’t want to risk any chance of getting arrested. The gangsters who are buying this drug supply are led by a ruthless overlord named Felix (voiced by Andrew Simpson), who is already irritated with Budge because Budge has delayed this drug deal for a week. Felix says if the drug supply isn’t delivered by 11:15 p.m., the deal is off. At the time Felix tells Budge this deadline over the phone, it’s 10:40 p.m., and Felix think that’s enough time to get everything done. As a precaution, Felix sends a menacing goon named Troy (played by Gerard Jordan) to be his enforcer, in case things go wrong.

There would be no “Nightride” movie if things went smoothly. Lefty and Beaker are bumbling dimwits, so you know what that means. Other things go wrong too, but that information will not be revealed in this review. What can be mentioned is that the stakes keep getting higher for Budge. At one point, he has to choose whether or not to commit murder. Sofia begs him not to go to those deadly extremes, but will Budge listen to her pleas?

Other characters who get involved in one way or another in Budge’s drug deal gone wrong include a guy nicknamed Scholar (played by Ciaran Flynn), Budge’s middle-man accomplice who is a Ph.D. student dealing drugs to help pay for his school tuition; a man nicknamed Magic Shop (voiced by Desmond Eastwood), a drug buyer whom Budge turns to in a moment of desperation; and Joe (voiced by Stephen Rea), a loan shark who is described by someone as a “psycho.” Budge also has a 15-year-old female cousin nicknamed Cuz (played Ellie O’Halloran), who calls him at inconvenient times to talk about her love life, but she ends up giving some valuable help to Budge when things go awry. Cuz also wants to work at the auto body shop that Budge and Graham plan to own.

“Nightride,” which had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, was filmed in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and before COVID-19 vaccines were available. You can tell that the movie was filmed during the pandemic because most conversations take place over the phone, and most of the cast members are not seen in the movie. When any cast members are seen on screen together, they are not gathered in large groups; only two to four people are in the scene.

One of the best things about “Nightride” is how it makes great use of dialogue and facial expressions to give viewers important insight into the personalities of these characters. Budge is the type of character who will keep viewers curious about what he’s going to do next when another obstacle gets in his way. Things never get boring in “Nightride,” which is a testament to how this movie was filmed and edited, as well as the cast members’ performances, particularly the standout turn from Dunford. “Nightride” is not a completely groundbreaking film, but it has plenty to offer to viewers looking for an adrenaline-fueled and entertaining thriller.

Brainstorm Media released “Nightride” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on March 4, 2022.

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