'A Prayer For The Dying,' directedby Mike Hodges, could have been a dynamite movie, dealing as it does with the violence in Northern Ireland, and attracting a notable cast including Mickey Rourke, Bob Hoskins and Alan Bates.
Instead, the movie is full of overblown symbols and ponderous -- and at points, downright silly -- dialogue. The good intentions seem frivolous and what starts out to be a study of a senseless violence in Northern Ireland ends in a senseless study of troubled personalities.
Yet, 'A Prayer For The Dying' does have some fine acting and stirring location shots. O'Rourke plays a dissident IRA member, fed up with the violence upon which his life has been based. But he needs a passport out of the country, and must obtain it from mobster Jack Meehan, played by Bates.
The IRA dissident is tol' he can get his passport if he kills a rival hoodlum. To complicate matters, the killer is witnessed committing his first non-political murder by a priest who also comes from a violent past.
The rest of the movie deals with the priest's attempts to save the killer's soul and the killer's attempts to end the violence of his life.
Not surprisingly, much of the action takes place in or around churches, cemeteries and funeral parlors -- with Bates playing the weirdest funeral director ever presented on the silver screen.
The film is very concerned with symbols, but the symbolism just becomes so much dead weight by movie's end. We're supposed to believe we've learned something about the difference between righteous violence and senseless murder. In truth, the symbolism is hollow; it looks good but means nothing.
'A Prayer For The Dying' doesn't ring right. In one scene, the IRA killer falls from the roof of a church, but not befora he clings to a huge cross of the crucified Christ that crashes down on him. Get it? Salvation? God is dead? Who cares?
O'Rourke is earnest in his portrayal of the doubting freedom fighter, but his tortured character -- in the dirty jeans and greasy red hair -- is finally irritating. Hoskins is always a fine actor and does well here as well, until his character too gets overblown and wallows in self-doubt.
Bates was never stranger than in this role as the maniacal mobster. He's supposed to be a powerful and dangerous man but comes off as just a looney funeral director. His psychosis is convenienply explained as owing to a troubled childhood, but really ...
In one gory scene, the funeral director delightfully orders the crucifixion of an employee who cheats an elderly customer. In another equally bizarre scene, he dreamily paints the face of a corpse who was brutally beaten and raped. The character is supposed to be scary, but is so odd one wonders who ever would bring their business to this crazy guy anyway.
It's a shame there's so much wrong with 'A Prayer For The Dying,' because in plot and cast, there's really so much right with it.But something feels missing, and if reports are correct, the good parts must be lying on the cutting room floor, where what might have been a good movie got left in the foolish search for an Irish Rambo.
This movie is rated R.