When walking out of the cinema after seeing A Prayer Before Dawn, chances are you will want a good drink to recover from what you’ve just seen. Based on the real-life story of Billy Moore (played by an incredible Joe Cole), who spend three years in one of Thailand’s most notorious prisons, it is a hard watch. However, it is also a beautifully-shot, amazingly well-acted drama and refreshing new take on the boxing-genre.
The film’s story shouldn’t come as a total surprise considering the director’s earlier work. Jean-Stephane Sauvaire had previously made a name for himself directing Johnny Mad Dog, a film about child soldiers in Liberia. He didn’t shy away from the horrors then and he definitely didn’t do so now.
A Prayer Before Dawn grips you from the start: from the sketchy nightclubs to the harrowing prison. It is as if you are right there with Billy Moore. It helps that most of the Thai dialogue isn’t subtitled, as we are just as clueless to what is happening as our main character. The shaky camera movements and the many close-ups transform the audience into a prisoner.
Sauvaire made use of endless, sometimes even 10-minute long, takes and let the actors improvise. With Joe Cole being the only professional in the room – the others are all former prisoners – this creates an interesting dynamic. With previous roles in Peaky Blinders and Offender, Cole is not afraid to put up a fight (he trained in Muay Thai for several months before shooting started), but he also has a vulnerability to him which gives the film an incredible emotional depth.
When the film ends after what feels like an eternity, it is almost as if you’ve spent three years in a Thai prison yourself. And although not necessarily a very pleasant feeling, such true transformative films are a rare and beautiful occurrence.
REELculture. rating – 5 stars
A Prayer Before Dawn opens in the UK this Friday the 20th of July.
Picture via NZIFF.com