Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Jean-Stephane Sauvaire

Stars: Joe Cole, Pornchanok Mabklang.

Joe Cole in A Prayer Before Dawn (2017)This intense brutal prison drama is like Kickboxer meets Midnight Express. This unflinching, hard hitting and gritty and harrowing true story is set inside Thailand’s notorious Bang Kwang Central prison, better known as the infamous Bangkok Hilton. Like Midnight Express, which depicted Billy Hayes’ ordeal after being arrested and imprisoned for smuggling drugs in Turkey, A Prayer Before Dawn is based on the 2014 memoir written by expat Brit Billy Moore (played by Joe Cole, from tv series Peaky Blinders, Green Room, etc) detailing his experiences.

Moore ekes out a living on Bangkok’s mean streets as a street fighter and small-time drug dealer, until he is arrested and imprisoned in one of Thailand’s toughest prisons. Confined to a crowded cell which he shares with heavily tattooed thugs, and living in squalid, filthy conditions, Billy often fears for his own safety. Down and dirty fights, gang rape, drugs, corruption are rife inside the prison where cigarettes are traded for favours. He survives his ordeal when he joins the prison boxing team and becomes a champion Muay Thai boxer. He also manages to maintain some vestiges of his humanity through a mutual attraction to ladyboy inmate named Fame (played by Pornchanok Mabklang).

Moore’s book has been adapted to the screen by writers Jonathan Hirschbein (Red Country, etc) and Nick Saltrese (a veteran of tv soaps like Hollyoaks and police procedurals like The Bill, etc). A Prayer Before Dawn is the second narrative feature from French director Jean-Stephane Sauvaire (Johnny Mad Dog), who has made several documentaries. He doesn’t pull his punches with this gritty and compelling drama, which heightens the sense of danger and tension. Quite often the dialogue is not subtitled, which allows the audience to feel as confused and uneasy as Billy.

This visceral film serves up a brutal ballet of fights, which have been carefully choreographed by veteran stunt co-ordinator David Ismalone (Ong Bak, etc), who fell in love with martial arts movies while watching Bruce Lee films as a kid. The bruising climactic fight was shot in one take. The film has been shot by cinematographer David Ungaro (Mary Shelley, etc) who uses hand held cameras to get in close to the action and gives the material a claustrophobic feel. He gives the material a suitably dirty dingy aesthetic. Much of the film itself was shot inside an actual Thai prison which lends a grungy authenticity to the locations, and it almost becomes another character in the film.

A Prayer Before Dawn is driven by the ferociously committed and physical performance from Cole who is put through the wringer. His gutsy performance captures the grit and determination of Moore to survive his ordeal. And he brings plenty of swagger to his role. The real-life Billy Moore contributes a brief cameo here as Billy’s father. The supporting cast is fleshed out with some real-life former inmates, who play fellow prisoners.

A Prayer Before Dawn avoids many of the usual clichés of the popular prison drama. This is brutal, bruising stuff, tough going and not for the faint hearted. Many will find it hard to sit through without flinching or looking away.


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