A Prayer Before Dawn Review: Authentic and true to the true story it’s based off of.
Gripping and intense, A Prayer Before Dawn expertly tells the story of Billy Moore through emotional moments, excellent camera work, and an incredible performance by Joe Cole.
The films tells the true story of Billy Moore (Joe Cole), an English boxer with little family connection and massive addictions to drugs and gambling. While in Thailand, Moore is arrested for drug dealing and incarcerated in the one of the country’s most notorious prisons. Being a needle in a haystack, Moore is constantly singled out by the other inmates and falls back into his destructive old ways. But when an opportunity arises for him to earn a way out of the prison through a Mai Thai fighting tournament. Now with his closing in, Moore must make the right choices in order to survive the prison and win in the ring.
Now this premise surely sounds like a traditional Rocky or Creed story set in another country, but it’s not at all. Really it has much more in common with a documentary film than your run of the mill sports movie.
Cole is outstanding in the film and viewers will find his story to be incredibly moving. Cole says very few words, but he captures the boxer’s more physical personality and many will see looks of struggle and despair displayed all over his. I found this to be an effective way to tell Moore’s story as it played really well into the film’s themes of being an outcast and isolation.
To say that this film has moments that are tough to watch is an understatement. A Prayer Before Dawn goes into the darkest depths of humanity and holds nothing back. This decision could turn some viewers away from the film entirely, but for me these moments felt genuine and right at home with the prison setting. It showcased how dire survival is in prison and never felt exploitative to force a reaction out of audiences.
I also felt the film was very successful in making viewers feel as much of an outcast as Billy was. Cultural difference is a huge proponent in Billy’s struggles in the prison and the harsh views many have on him feel very real. This could do with director Jean-Stephane Sauvaire’s decision to not only film in the actual prison, but also including real-life prisoners as a part of cast and major scenes gives views both a terrifying and relatable experience to Billy.
Where Sauvaire is at his best, though, is direction and camera movement during the fight scenes. Instead of backing away and getting shots from beyond the ropes, viewer are put right in the ring with tight shots that put you right in between Moore and his opponent. Watching the fights in the film, I felt the intensity of each punch from the excellent acting of Cole and the solid sound effects that adds a harsh force to each hit. Not to mention, his use of long, uncut shots really adds to the realism of their fighting.
Regardless of the tough to watch moments or the strong cultural messages, what audiences will really get out of A Prayer Before Dawn is the heartbreaking and emotional story of Billy Moore. At its heart, the film really is a story of redemption and seeing Billy at his highs and mostly lows while in the prison. But I legitimately felt something for him as his struggle felt incredibly real and I constantly had deep desires to see him succeed.
A Prayer Before Dawn might be too much for some, but it’s an incredibly authentic telling of Billy Moore’s story and should be recognized as an excellent sports film. Sauvaire’s camera work and visual style and casting choices gives Billy Moore the respect his story deserves. It’s honestly a film that sticks with you and without a doubt one of my favorites of this year so far.