A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN (2017)
Directed by Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire
Written by Billy Moore, Jonathan Hirschbein and Nick Saltrese
Starring Joe Cole, Cherry Miko, Vithaya Pansringarm and Panya Yimmumphai
Available on DVD and Blu-Ray
A Scouse boxer in Thailand finds himself behind bars after being caught with drugs. Whilst in prison, surrounded by ruthless hardened criminals and with very little understanding of the Thai language, Billy finds a ray of hope through Muay Thai. Training in Thai Boxing within the prison walls, Billy has to prove he has what it takes but will he have the fight in him when it matters when he’s chosen to represent the prison in a Muay Thai match?
A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN is a biographical film, based on the book of the same name, depicting the true life story of Billy Moore. Shot in a real life prison (Nakhon Pathom) in Thailand and featuring a cast of ex-inmates, the film details Moore’s incarceration following a drugs charge and how Muay Thai helped to earn his freedom.
When we’re introduced to Billy, we see a bit of his life before he ends up behind bars and it’s not great. Though he seems to have some sort of career in organised fights, the way he conducts himself gives away that he’s on a slippery slope as he looses his temper in the ring. His dependency on drugs is evident and though he tries to shield his addiction to meth and yaba, the local police force are not fooled. A drug-related charge sees him sent to prison where his mettle will truly be tested.
The prison system we see unfold on-screen is unflinching. Inmates sleep on bare floors, people are beaten, drugs are sold and smoked behind bars, and bartering goes on between guards and other prisoners. The film paints a desperate picture of what life must be like in prison as Billy takes his place on the floor with a sleeping mat, alongside others, with each cell ruled by a leader. When he ends up in mini brawl with another inmate, Billy finds himself moved to a cell with the hardest inmates in the prison; fully tattooed and not averse from raping other cellmates in the middle of the night.
As Billy navigates his new home, it’s pretty intimidating to experience. A lack of knowledge of the Thai language on Billy’s part is effectively portrayed by withholding subtitles for certain parts of dialogue. This makes the viewer just as out of the loop as Billy is in the film, with only a few snippets translated which Billy seems to understand. Some of the Thai inmates do use a bit of basic English too which feels real and authentic as both Billy and the Thai inmates attempt to communicate. Though language appears to be a bit of a barrier, their affinity for drugs does not as Billy still manages to score inside the facility which only serves to hinder his progress in prison.
The first half of the film is very much about Billy’s incarceration and how he deals with life behind bars. The latter half of the film is where he gets involved with the prison’s Thai Boxing team, where he manages to barter his way into the gym by bribing the Thai Boxing coach (played by real life Muay Thai Boxer and Olympic Gold Medallist boxer, Somluck Kamsing) with a carton of cigarettes. It’s here we see Billy hone his skills and learn how to kick, clinch and knee like a Muay Thai fighter. Though he seems to adapt to the style well, his rage and frustration sometimes overflows due to sneakily taking drugs between sessions, but this comes to bite him on the arse at a later date.
Even through Billy exhibits tumultuous behaviour, he still remains a character you want to support and root for in the hope that he can make a better life for himself.
Joe Cole is brilliant as the troubled Billy Moore, effortlessly displaying a range of emotions from sombre sincerity to powerhouse aggression. He even steps up during the fight scenes, showcasing both skill and fitness of a boxer, as he attempts to put away his opponents. However, it’s the softer, more contemplative moments where Joe really shines as Billy, with the young man channelling all his spirit into surviving the system.
A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN is a gritty, realistic story that pulls no punches and gives it to the viewers straight. A sobering watch.