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A Prayer Before Dawn (2017)
Directed by: Jean-Stephane Sauvaire
Starring: Joe Cole, Pornchanok Mabklang, Panya Yimmuphai
Rated: R for Strong Violence Including a Brutal Rape Sequence, Drug Use and Language Throughout, Some Sexual Content and Nudity
Running Time: 1 h 56 m
TMM Score: 4 stars out of 5
STRENGTHS: Acting, Realism, Writing, Directing, Cinematography
The true story of Billy Moore, an English boxer who was incarcerated in a Thai prison and fought in a Muay Thai tournament to prove himself to the other inmates.
This film is pretty brutal; it feels incredible gritty and real. This movie is based on a true story, and it doesn’t shy away from any of the nastier details of prison life or drug addiction. Joe Cole (Green Room) plays Billy Moore, a real life boxer and crystal meth and heroine addict who was incarcerated in Thailand after they found drugs in his apartment. A minority in a prison where he doesn’t speak the language, Moore finds himself isolated, and often targeted by the other members of the prison. In order to get a chance to fight back, Moore joins a Muay Thai tournament to prove himself. The experience in the Thai prison is brutal, and at times even surreal. Moore himself described his experience by saying it was “a strange mixture of casual brutality and indifference to human suffering.”
"I can fight. I need to fight."
The best part of this movie was the realism it provided. It was shot on location at Nakhon Pathom Prison in Thailand (as it says in the trailer), and many of the characters and extras in this movie were or currently are inmates in the prison. The fact that they used criminals and gang members as extras, the fact that they shot it in the prison where Moore was held, makes this feel far more cinema verite than many of the other prison movies I’ve seen. The extras in particular add a huge layer of realism; almost everyone we see is covered in gang-affiliated tattoos. Another thing I liked was that this film did not try to portray Moore as a great man; he’s a drug addict, and a thief- there’s a reason he went to prison- they don’t try to sugarcoat his story. Even further with the verite aspect; much of this film is shown without subtitles. Moore didn’t speak much of the language when he was placed in the prison, leading to a feeling of isolation. There are a lot of scenes in this movie where we have no idea what is actually being said- we have to figure it out in a game of charades, just like Moore would’ve had to do. In doing this, we feel the same feeling of isolation that Moore experienced; it puts us in his shoes.
I really liked a lot of the cinematography in this film, particularly during the fight scenes. There was one fight scene in particular that was filmed in just two different shots; the camera spun and whirled around the fighters is if locked in a violent dance. But it’s not just the fight scenes that are expertly choreographed; many of the other shots really help build the world of this prison in which Moore now resides. Though I’d say 90% of the movie takes place behind bars, Sauvarie always finds a way to keep things interesting and kenetic.
Joe Cole is fantastic as Billy Moore; I’ve only seen the actor once before, and that was in Green Room (another ultra-violent thriller). In Green Room, the late Anton Yelchin largely overshadowed Cole, but in this film, Cole ate up the celluloid. He was easily the most interesting character on screen, and he held my attention with ease. His ability to portray a feeling of solitude, while still conveying a willingness and a need to fight was great.
If I had one issue with this movie it was that the pacing felt a little slow, and a large part of that probably has to do with the fact that we barely understand any of the dialogue spoken throughout the film. While the fights themselves are visceral and intense, the times in between the fights are mostly spent getting to know more about Moore’s time in prison. A lot of the things we witness add to the oppressive tone of the film, but at times the oppression can feel a bit arduous the time between the fights can feel a bit lengthy.
Overall, I really enjoyed this film. I’m not much of a sports movie person usually, but this movie told more than a story of team vs team. It tells the story of a troubled man fighting with himself and with the world, trying to find a place for himself, trying to overcome his demons, and trying to find something to fight for. While there are some scenes of brutal violence (and a scene of prison rape), this is a story of a man fighting through hell for a chance at redemption. This is easily one of the better boxing/martial arts movies I’ve seen in a long time; if you can stomach the violence, it’s certainly a rewarding film.
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