Violence here and its unpredictable consequences lurk ever on the edge of reality. Like in his Get Carter, Mike Hodges' 1987 film A Prayer For the Dying achieves a lot of its magnetic quality by showing violent characters not being violent, by simply regarding each other casually allowing the possibility of violence to provoke quiet tension. This is an inferior film to Get Carter and certainly to Croupier, though I think a lot of the film's flaws are due to producer interference which introduced elements of a more conventional film. But it still mostly works as thoughtful noir.
At the centre of the film is Mickey Rourke as Martin Fallon, a former IRA member who, at the beginning of the film, we see in Northern Ireland contributing to a roadside bombing that accidentally kills a school bus full of children instead of the intended targets, a couple British army vehicles. He vows to give up killing and flees to London where a former comrade blackmails him into working for an English mob boss named Jack Meehan. It's a nice, typical existential noir problem--Fallon doesn't have a choice but to perform a hit if he wants to flee the British Isles, but of course one always has a choice.
A problem arises when Fallon's witnessed in killing his target by a Catholic priest named Michael Da Costa (Bob Hoskins). Fallon refuses to kill Da Costa, tricking the priest into taking confession from him about the killing thereby binding him to silence. This isn't good enough for the gangsters who demand Fallon kill Da Costa anyway.
This doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Surely the only person endangered by Da Costa is Fallon and if Meehan's concerned about Fallon getting caught and talking to the police, I don't see why they don't simply execute Fallon.
Instead, they put him up with a prostitute named Jenny (Camille Coduri) who looked incredibly familiar to me but it wasn't until I checked imdb after the movie that I realised she was Rose Tyler's mother from Doctor Who.
So River Song in Croupier and Jackie Tyler in A Prayer for the Dying. Perhaps this is some insight into tastes of the casting director for Doctor Who.
Anthony Head is in the film, too, as one of Meehan's henchmen.
Most of the movie is spent with people hanging around waiting for someone to start killing. There's an ongoing dialogue of moral conflict between Da Costa and Fallon as Da Costa attempts to redeem Fallon's soul while Fallon has seen too much of the senselessness in how the world metes out violence to even begin to feel persuaded.
Da Costa isn't really a great one to present the argument for religion. A former military man, we see in one scene where he beats the lights out of four of Meehan's men that the priest barely contains an intense compulsion to violence himself.
Perhaps the weakest element of the film is Da Costa's daughter, an organist for the church named Anna (Sammi Davis). She's blind and has complete faith and love for Fallon. And otherwise she doesn't have a lot of character traits. She seems to exist mainly for a tremendously awkward love sequence between herself and Fallon and to be terrorised by Jack Meehan's sadistic brother Billy.
Her love for Fallon, as the blind woman who can "see" better than everyone else, actually just waters down the moral conflict between Fallon and Da Costa. Particularly as Fallon's personal dissatisfaction with life is a lack of anything to believe in. After his disillusionment with the cause in Northern Ireland, he remarks there's nothing he wants to live for and there's nothing he wants to die for.