Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (good)
Synopsis: Cast off into Thai prison for dealing heroin, the strange yet true life of British boxer Billy Moore is a ballad of visceral rawness which sometimes falters against its source material.
Due to the nature of the medium, books can host multiple sub-plots, nuances and themes while films have a limited window to tell a complete arc. The problem films face when transitioning a novel to the screen is either conciseness or fidelity. In trying to faithfully render Billy Moore’s memoirs, A Prayer Before Dawn’s ambitiousness entangles the film in a bramble of plot threads. Suffering from a drifting focus, A Prayer Before Dawn veers from the strangeness and savagery of Thai prison, to Billy’s fight to survive and curb his addiction while also being a boxing film. Even a sprinkle of romance is tossed into the the mix. These elements would meld together in the paper print of a good long book, but in a film they result in a plot which leaps and then spends scenes orientating itself. A Prayer Before Drawn plunges the viewer into a shocking and gruesome reality, but its many stops prevent it being an engrossing journey through Thailand’s underbelly.
Director Jean-Stephane Sauvaire makes some admirably bold decisions in A Prayer Before Dawn. Absent of any subtitles throughout, the viewer shares Billy’s fear and confusion as he is lost in the Thai commands of guard and prisoner alike. The prisoners themselves are all former Thai convicts. Their grounding in the film’s setting explains how the prisoners unflinchingly depict acts of rape, extortion and violence with a disturbing level of calm. The final and best gamble Sauvaire pulls is his choice of Joe Cole as Billy Moore. Cole brings to Billy Moore the same intensity as his character John Shelby in Peaky Blinders. Yet Cole channels this intensity into someone bearing the brunt of the world, buckling from inner turmoil while reeling at external dangers. Cole captivates as Billy Moore, rendering A Prayer Before Dawn into an intimate look at another rebuilding his life, a man both dangerous and vulnerable. This duality draws away from A Prayer Before Dawn’s problems and proves Joe Cole’s promise to become a venerable star of our time.
Visually, Sauvaire’s use of space and framing invokes the claustrophobia and oppressiveness of prison both environmentally and socially. Certain shots of Billy, his pale skin amid a sea of tattooed prisoners marks out his isolation and seeming incompatibility with this lifestyle.
Throughout A Prayer Before Dawn I saw the passion and potential of this unique story beyond the rosy tourist images of Thailand. However I struggled to be truly enveloped by the film. Hopefully a second viewing will improve my opinion but I would still recommend A Prayer Before Dawn to anyone looking for something different.
By Saul Shimmin
For the trailer, see below;