A Prayer Before Dawn
Joe Cole gives an intensely physical performance in this bruising drama immersing us in the brutal world of a Thai prison
What must it feel like to be thrown into a prison in Thailand, where you can't even speak the language and you know that your life isn't worth a damn to the convicted murderers around you? Billy Moore knows how it feels, and by the end of A Prayer Before Dawn you might think you have a pretty good idea as well.
Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire's adaptation of Moore's autobiography spends much of its first hour simply making us experience the infamous Bang Kwang Central Prison, with Sauvaire's use of real ex-cons as extras adding to the film's intimidating atmosphere. With much of the Thai dialogue going unsubtitled, the film forces us to share Billy's disorientation, but Joe Cole's intensely physical performance – a mask of bravado hiding his panic and fear – keeps us riveted.
The second half of A Prayer Before Dawn has a more conventional shape, as Billy uses Muay Thai boxing to fight for his life and freedom, but David Ungaro's invigorating cinematography and the bruising sound design ensure every moment feels painfully authentic. [Philip Concannon]