In what’s sure to be every tourist’s worst nightmare, A Prayer Before Dawn follows Billy Moore as he’s arrested on drug charges and sent to a notorious Thai prison. In a squalid cell where violence is a daily occurrence, Billy must use his boxing skills to get him through his time in prison.
A Prayer Before Dawn is a truly brutal watch. The first 30 minutes acquaint us with the prison in a way that makes other prison films pale in comparison – Shawshank begins to look like a relaxing weekend away. While this is effective in showing an alien environment (the film was shot on location in a Thai prison, and many of the extras were convicts) the violence is shockingly real and hard to stomach at points.
Billy, played in a brilliantly physical performance by Joe Cole, spends most of his time in a drug-sick daze, narrowly avoiding fights with the other prisoners in tense scenes that intentionally abandon subtitles to replicate Billy’s inability to understand the language. Standing out with his white, untattooed skin amongst a hoard of prisoners covered in prison tattoos, he is vulnerable from the moment he steps in, and this is reflected in the tension that the film carries.
Once the film settles down and focuses on Billy’s goal to box his way through his stay in the prison, it becomes, if not any less forgiving, more meditative, using the sparse score and rare quiet moments to great effect. Billy must change if he’s going to survive, and while we don’t witness complete character arc, we do see in these quiet moments that his experience is moulding him.
Brutal and dark, a boxing/prison film hybrid set in a deeply unsettling environment, A Prayer Before Dawn is a very rewarding watch – if you can stomach it.
CAST: Joe Cole, Vithaya Pansringarm, Panya Yimmumphai, Nicolas Shake
DIRECTOR: Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire
WRITERS: Jonathan Hirschbein (screenplay), Nick Saltrese (screenwriter)
SYNOPSIS: 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.