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‘In The Land Of Saints and Sinners’ Suffers From Audiences’ Liam Neeson Fatigue

Unfortunately, for a solid B-movie like ‘In The Land Of Saints And Sinners,’ audiences aren’t rushing out to see Neeson’s films anymore.


The career of Liam Neeson is fascinating and likely marks one of the most gradual yet severe career declines since Charles Bronson joined Cannon Films. Much like his predecessor, who starred in masterpieces like “The Great Escape” and “Once Upon A Time In The West,” Neeson’s career began with his star-making role in “Schindler’s List” and is now mostly recognized for starring in dozens of low-budget action movies. 

Neeson has cultivated a reputation as one of Hollywood’s best grizzled old men, being an actor capable of genuinely emotive performances and convincing masculine violence. His career has spanned from prestige films like “Gangs of New York,” “Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” and “Widows” to blockbusters like “The Phantom Menace,” “Chronicles of Narnia,” “A-Team,” “Batman Begins,” and “Clash of the Titans” (in addition to his early work in “Dark Man” and “Excalibur”). 

But for whatever reason, his popular role in “Taken” has fundamentally shifted him into an actor best suited for action thrillers. Starting around 2014, his persona leaned into the image of his action hero characters in “Taken” and “Unknown,” even parodying it in movies like “Ted 2” and “The LEGO Movie” and producing upwards of 16 action flicks in the past decade. 

This effort has already hit diminishing returns. As Hollywood In Toto points out, his last four action movies — “The Marksmen,” “Blacklight,” “Memory,” and “Retribution” — all grossed less than $15 million at the box office, and his efforts have begun shifting toward Netflix exclusivity. His newest film, “In The Land Of Saints And Sinners,” has grossed only $2.9 million in the week since it hit theaters over Easter weekend. Given that it is one of his stronger recent outings, it is a shame.  

It can be difficult at times to parse out nuances of Neeson’s late-career work, given that so many of the films blend together. What sets “The Commuter” or “Non-Stop” apart other than the setting? How many ways are there to tell the same revenge-thriller story or explain why our aging star is so proficient with weapons? 

Thankfully, “In The Land Of Saints and Sinners” directly frontloads its story with the reality of age and melancholy of its lead character, following a 1970s Irish hitman who finds himself caught in the dealings of the IRA as he grapples with the guilt of a lifetime of senseless killing. It isn’t a profound story and skirts dangerously close to pretentiousness every time its lead character starts quoting Dostoyevsky, but it functions well as a B-movie that takes advantage of the beautiful landscapes of rural Ireland to make its world feel gritty and lived in. 

The movie is essentially a Western, with its hitman characters all directly or indirectly acting like gunslingers in a lawless world where their actions bind or unleash chaos upon an unsuspecting public, often getting children killed in random car bombs. And given that Neeson is 71 years old, it takes advantage of his persona intelligently by adding a layer of regret and consciousness to the proceedings, asking whether there is such a thing in the world as forgiveness for one’s sins. 

Alas, a new Liam Neeson movie in a landscape where he’s released six action movies in the past two years puts even a good Neeson movie in a rough spot. Audiences seem willing to seek out his films, as was evident when his 2019 film “Cold Pursuit” drew 6.7 million views on Netflix this past October and beat several recent Netflix Originals in ratings. However, they aren’t rushing out to see the films in theaters. 

It certainly hasn’t helped his career that Neeson is so politically outspoken, having taken public partisan stances on gun control, abortion, toxic masculinity, #MeToo, Islam, Brexit, and Trump. He isn’t politically affiliated, but his views skew progressive, with him promoting former candidate Hillary Clinton and condemning Donald Trump. While he was briefly canceled in 2019 for admitting in an interview that he had grappled with racist thoughts after a traumatic event in his early life, and blasted the “political correctness” surrounding the backlash, he’s mostly stayed in Hollywood’s good graces through his persistent activism. He most recently appeared on MSNBC’s “Prosecuting Trump” on March 21 to dramatically recite Trump’s indictments alongside Glenn Close. 

Regardless, Neeson remains a popular entertainer despite how people interact with his extracurricular statements. His films are gracefully not very political, meaning they aren’t preaching partisan talking points. They’re political in the sense that anything is political, given that his films deal with crime, terrorism, human trafficking, and gun violence, but rarely stick their head out the window to shame middlebrow audiences for their beliefs. 

Unfortunately, whether because of his politics or oversaturation, audiences aren’t rushing out to see his movies. This leaves a solid B-movie like “In The Land Of Saints And Sinners” in a difficult spot, to be ignored by an exhausted audience for reasons outside the movie’s control. 

Given that Neeson is starring in Ethan Hawke’s upcoming Flannery O’Connor biopic “Wildcat,” it is clear Neeson hasn’t forgone his efforts to cultivate more challenging work as a performer. This is certainly not the last time we’ll see Neeson going forward, but one hopes he is responsive to wherever the audiences want him to go — whether on Netflix or in different movies.

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