Prayer for the Dying, A (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Jim Hemphill
  • Review Date: May 19, 2016
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Prayer for the Dying, A (Blu-ray Review)


Mike Hodges

Release Date(s)

1987 (April 12, 2016)


Samuel Goldwyn Company/United Artists (Twilight Time)
  • Film/Program Grade: A
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: A


Boutique label Twilight Time’s ongoing effort to shine a light on obscure but deserving titles once lost to film history continues with their excellent new release of A Prayer for the Dying, a character-driven thriller that should be far better known – and now has the chance to be thanks to this top-notch Blu-ray presentation. Released in 1987 to commercial and critical indifference (at least in the United States), the film tells the story of Martin Fallon (Mickey Rourke), an IRA assassin who decides to retire after one of his jobs goes wrong and he accidentally blows up a school bus full of children. Getting out of the killing game is easier said than done, however, as London crime boss Jack Meehan (Alan Bates) pressures Fallon into pulling off one last job. With the assurance of cash and passage to America, Fallon takes the assignment and murders one of Meehan’s rivals in a cemetery; the only problem is that he’s spotted by a local priest (Bob Hoskins).

Fallon refuses to kill the priest, setting in motion a series of complications as the cops, Meehan’s men (who want the priest dead), and Fallon’s own IRA colleagues (including Liam Neeson, in a brilliant early performance), close in. Fallon procures the priest’s silence by taking confession, assuring that the man of God will not turn him in – a violation of the priest’s vows. While Fallon bides his time, he falls for the priest’s blind niece (Sammi Davis), and this love story intersects beautifully with the crime tale to form a meditative yet tense examination of a man in search of his own soul. Rourke embodies this search beautifully in one of his most subtle, touching performances – one which, like his turns in Body Heat, Rumble Fish, and Angel Heart, makes one wonder what might have been had he not destroyed his face (and, The Wrestler aside, his acting career) by turning to boxing. Hoskins, of course, is his equal in every way – the complexity of his priest and that of Rourke’s hit man make this an almost classic film noir.

That the movie, which brilliantly combines character and action in satisfying, resonant ways, is not better known might have something to do with the circumstances of its production. Both director Mike Hodges (Get Carter) and Rourke were unhappy with the final result, having envisioned something even more character-based than the film that exists; they saw the studio’s cut, completed without Hodges’ participation, as too action-oriented. At the time of the film’s release, Hodges made his displeasure known, perhaps coloring the view of contemporary audiences and critics. Intentions aside, this is a great crime saga nearly on a par with Hodges’ earlier Get Carter, and one of the things the director objected to – a Bill Conti score added after the fact – is absolutely fantastic! That score is included on Twilight Time’s Blu-ray as an isolated audio track, and makes for wonderful listening. The transfer on the whole is beyond reproach, perfectly emulating the grain structure, contrast, and color of the film’s theatrical release prints, and the disc includes two excellent interviews: one with Hodges and one with cinematographer Mike Garfath. These conversations, totaling just over 40 minutes, provide a unique perspective on this overlooked gem – one which warrants respect even greater than that given to it by its own director.  

- Jim Hemphill