STARRING: Joe Cole, Vithaya Pansringarm, Panya Yimmumphai, Somluck Kamsing, Pornchanok Mabklang, Sura Sirmalai, Sakda Niamhom and Komsan Polsan
The true story of an English boxer incarcerated in one of Thailand’s most notorious prisons as he fights in Muay Thai tournaments to earn his freedom.
A Prayer Before Dawn focuses on an English boxer named Billy Moore, whose down on his luck and addicted to Ya ba in Thailand, where he ends up being arrested and is put in Chiang Mai Prison, where he struggles to survive and ends up taking part in a Muay Thai boxing tournament, aiming for redemption and freedom.
A Prayer Before Dawn tells the true story of Englishman William ‘Billy’ Moore, a boxer that moves out to Thailand with the intention of living a better life than in his hometown of Liverpool, but ends up falling back into his drug addiction and ends up being arrested for possession of stolen goods and is incarcerated in one of Thailand’s most notorious prisons. Far from home in a country in a hostile environment, Billy searches for meaning and escape in the prison’s Muay Thai club and proceeds to enter a Muay Thai tournament.
Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire does a solid job in directing this film, using a lot of close shots on Joe Cole’s face to show how isolated Billy feels in this claustrophobic environment, with the creative choice to use as little subtitles as possible amongst the rest of the cast to make you feel as alienated as Billy does about what’s going on around him. Moore stands out from the sea of tattooed bodies with his skin colour, and the first half of the film is brimming with tension and the depiction of portraying the prison life that Billy did here on a feature film is one of the most brutal, unnerving and visceral viewing experiences this year. The violence shown here is extreme and difficult to watch, as violence could seemingly come from nowhere and happen at any given moment, with Billy threatened with beatings, rape and STD’s by anyone he just looks the wrong way. Sauvaire then attempts to cleanse the viewer in the latter half when Billy decides to get back into the ring to reclaim some sense of freedom, with really well shot Muay Thai bouts and training sequences. I’ve never watched Peaky Blinders properly, but here I thought Joe Cole was ferocious performance as Billy Moore. Committed with the physicality needed for the role, Cole is great at balancing the untamed rage that lies within Billy, leading to one sequence in which he almost breaks two men to death in order to feed his drug habit of choice Ya ba, and the vulnerability of a young man hanging on the edge, completely alone and at everyone as it’s all that he understands. The score from Nicolas Becker complements the footage well and I also liked David Ungaro’s cinematography work here.
While I very much enjoyed the film, that is a few little issues that may be raised or concerning for others. The deliberate lack of subtitles may leave people wanting to know more about what is being said in certain moments, and it might be more irritating than effective to viewers watching the film. The narrative structure itself might leave audiences wanting more, as it certainly did me. I knew of the story of Billy Moore, but the film places you briefly following Billy in Thailand and almost immediately get arrested. We don’t witness his history, his backstory of why he left Liverpool for a better life in Thailand other than in a few lines of dialogue when Billy’s speaking with transgender convict Fame about his upbringing. It’s that detail that might make it difficult for you to care/root for Billy to turn his life around when watching this film.
A Prayer Before Dawn tells the interesting true story of Billy Moore and brings to life a visceral tale of a stranger in a strange land, filled with unsettling imagery and violence. It also happens to include a potential star-making performance from Joe Cole who is definitely one to keep an eye on in the future once the Peaky Blinders series comes to a close, based on the evidence of his mental and physical performance here. A Prayer Before Dawn is a really solid film in my eyes, but it definitely isn’t for the faint of heart. 8/10