Joe Cole plays Billy Moore, a heroin-addicted boxer living in Thailand, in this true life tale. As his life spirals Billy finds himself inside a Thai jail cell, and from there it only gets worse. A Prayer Before Dawn is nearly two hours of pain and misery and pure rage. That is not to say it is a bad film. In fact it’s rather good, but it requires patience to get through the hardship to the light, much like Moore’s journey itself.
Cole is brilliant as the hot-headed, determined Moore. He is not the best person no doubt, but he’s a sympathetic enough character stuck in a horrendous situation. The prison sees him as the only foreigner sharing a tiny room with a large number of Thai men. They literally overlap, squashing next to each other at night to sleep. This movie is completely unflinching in its portrayal of the horrifyingly brutal conditions of the Thailand prison system and will certainly put off a large quantity of viewers with some of its more sickening moments.
A Prayer Before Dawn is certainly depressing at times, but it subtly builds relationships for Billy, whether with an unnamed cellmate or a lady-boy he meets. These relationships are what provide the film with its heart, and Billy with a sense of purpose. As Billy aims to further himself, we feel each heart-breaking slip and falter. This is a testament to the strength of Joe Cole’s performance and the soul-crushing events that come before it.
The film however does have a few notable flaws. The first being its runtime. Whilst the movie starts off at a breakneck speed, it does drag near the middle due to its repetitive nature. It never gets boring, but it could still be about twenty minutes shorter. The main issue appears to be due to the nature of the project. It is an adaptation of a memoir. This desire to translate from page to screen means the first half is heavy on the depression whilst the second (almost) turns it into a boxing tournament movie. This switch is a little jarring and is only partially successful.
The camera work is generally good if not great. We feel forced into these tight, unforgiving places along with Moore whether that be the tiny one person cell or the overcrowded jail. In the ring though, where a lot of the movie takes place as Billy tries to find some direction through fighting, the camera work lets down what is actually some pretty slick choreography. I understand the need to get near to Moore and his opponent, but the camera is too close. The action therefore gets lost in the shaky cam blur. This is perhaps the biggest disappointment in the movie.
Overall though, A Prayer Before Dawn is a success, thanks mainly to a ferocious lead performance by Cole, who carries this movie well and truly on his shoulders.