Review: A Prayer Before Dawn

A Prayer Before Dawn
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PLOT: Billy Moore (Joe Cole) a young, meth-addict boxer from the UK, is arrested in Thailand and sentenced to three years in a brutal prison. There, he learns Muay Thai boxing as a way to conquer his demons, and hopefully get his life back on track.

REVIEW: A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN could have been made a lot of different ways – the most obvious being as a straight-up actioner. It easily could have been a cross between MIDNIGHT EXPRESS and UNDISPUTED, but director Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire clearly had something weightier in mind. To that end, Billy’s true story (the actual Billy Moore was a stuntman in RAMBO before his arrest) is told in a straightforward, unglamorous way that never glorifies our hero, even if he remains fairly sympathetic throughout. You never doubt that he’s guilty – in fact, you see that he’s clearly not and in fact deserves the relatively lenient punishment he receives, although living in a Thai prison proves to be a steep learning curve for a westerner who doesn’t know the language or culture.

In a typical, Western version of this story, Billy would have been befriended by an English-speaking mentor, but instead, Billy’s mostly on his own here, with the majority of the dialogue presented as unsubtitled Thai. Billy doesn’t understand what they’re saying, and neither do we. The only relief Billy gets, at first, is his romance with an imprisoned transsexual, Fame (Pornchanok Mabklang), who runs the commissary, speaks English, and shows him some sympathy (and affection). Some of the more crooked guards speak English too, wanting to use Billy’s propensity for violence and out-of-control habits as a way to eliminate troublesome prisoners, but this gives way to a more redemptive arc that has our hero work harder than usual for a second chance you won’t doubt he deserves by the time the credits roll.

It’s first and foremost an incredible star vehicle for Joe Cole, mostly known for “Peaky Blinders” and GREEN INFERNO. He explodes onto the screen the same way Jack O’Connell did in the underrated STARRED UP, and he’s a live wire, believably conveying Billy’s desperate habit and simmering rage. He gets put through the ringer, being forced to witness rapes, threatened with that and worse (an HIV infected gang threatens to infect him if he doesn’t pay back a drug debt), and of course routinely getting the piss kicked out of him in Muay Thai.

Another unusual thing for this kind of movie is that Billy’s Muay Thai ability is always kept relatively believable. He doesn’t win every fight – in fact, I wager he loses more than he wins. His size helps against more diminutive fighters, but it’s shown to be more the discipline and camaraderie with his fellow fighters (a heavily tattooed, good lot – apparently all ex-inmates) that help him start to turn things around. The fights are lean and mean, with the showiest being a fight midway through that’s all shot with one handheld camera and no cuts, a pretty impressive piece of choreography.

Given how unconventional for this type of thing that A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN is, it’s no surprise that this is one of A24’s VOD releases (although it’s also getting a theatrical component), but that’s no indicator of the movie’s quality. It’s good enough to have played in competition at Cannes 2017, and it’s a pretty exceptional piece of work, and one that puts Cole on the map in a big way. This is one well worth checking out. It’s harrowing but in many ways, it’s also pretty unforgettable.

Source: JoBlo.com



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