A Prayer Before Dawn
Director: Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire
Cast: Joe Cole, Pornchanok Mabklang, Panya Yimmumphai
Running Time: 1 hr. 56 min.
Based on the bestselling autobiography of Billy Moore, a British boxer and heroin addict who finds himself locked up behind bars in Thailand. “A Prayer Before Dawn” is an uncompromisingly real, vicious, look at life in the notorious Klong Prem prison, aka “Bangkok Hilton”.
Prison movies tend to follow predictable tropes. A (usually) innocent man finds himself initially overwhelmed by his new circumstances, adapts, makes friends and comes away better for the experience. “A Prayer Before Dawn” has no interest in conforming to conventions. There is no Morgan Freeman to guide Moore in his journey. In fact, as the only foreigner in the prison, he finds himself further isolated. His pale, almost transparent body shines like a beacon to attract the attention and violence of his fellow inmates.
Shot on location and using real prisoners in the cast. The film feels almost voyeuristic. It plays like a brutal documentary but without the safety net of a narrator to snap us back into reality. There is no Hollywood gloss here, the sights are grim, you can almost smell the sweat on the walls and the musky heat emanating from the screen.
The subtitles only appear sparingly for words and phrases that Moore himself can understand. This enables the audience to feel the same sense of confusion and isolation that his leading man feels. As a result, you feel a kinship with what is a very unsympathetic character. A drug dependent, thief prone to flashes of violence. It speaks to the brilliance of Cole’s performance that despite that. You still wind up rooting for Moore hoping that each mistake will be his last and he will finally come good.
Even when Moore enters what would appear to be his redemptive phase. Finding an outlet for his pent-up violence, in the prisons Muay Thai gym. He still conspires to be sabotaged by both his mind and his body.
The fight scenes are beautifully choreographed, there are no 47 punch “Rocky” style combos. Instead, the reality of each punch and kick is felt. The awful thudding sound of each blow landing and the wet sound of blood flying, leaves you wincing.
Joe Cole is stunning, playing Moore as a raw nerve. A man who is his own self-destructive, worst enemy. Unable to control even the simplest of emotions without flying into fits of either violence or sadness. Present for every frame of the film. It is a star-making turn for Cole who delivers on the promise he showed in “Peaky Blinders”. Not afforded the chance to verbally express himself. Cole instead uses his physicality to convey his anger, fear and loneliness.
A blend of “Midnight Express” and “Warrior” “A Prayer Before Dawn” is a relentless, unflinching, brutal film. Anchored by a spectacular lead performance. It’s a ferocious and engaging look at the reality of a nightmare scenario. One of the best films of the year so far. It is not a movie you watch but rather one you experience. Highly recommended.
5 out of 5
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- Andy McCarroll @andymc1983