Premiering last year at the Cannes Film Festival, Prayer Before Dawn is a Thai film based on the memoir by Billy Moore about his time as a recovering addict in a Thai prison. Billy Moore is portrayed by Joe Cole (Skins, Peaky Blinders) in an incredibly challenging role, set in a grimy and uncomfortable prison; the isolation is matched by the occasional subtitles for Thai. The film is a delicate mix of fish-out-of-water, prison and boxing genres that works wonderfully well together to sink you into Billy Moore’s grim life.
The film opens with Billy preparing for a Muay Thai fight, using the money he earns to spend on drugs despite Thailand’s zero-tolerance policy. It’s not long before he’s caught, sentenced and sent to prison where only a handful of prisoners speak English. Caught between fighting off gang members and his addiction he realises his only chance of a better life is through joining the prison’s Muay Thai team. The film doesn’t skimp on the indignities he goes through, first with a strip search by the guards, before being interrogated by fellow prisoners to establish him near the bottom of the pecking order.
Joe Cole is incredible at bringing up suppressed rage that boils beneath the surface of his face in every scene he’s harassed. As Billy, there are few scenes of relief from the prison which is centred on pleasing his addiction and his relationship with a transsexual Thai woman who at least gets to stay a separate part of the all-male prison. It’s impossible not to feel sympathy for him at his lows, but then recoil when his rage leads him to beat up some prisoners to please a guard in a bid to score drugs. It takes ages for Billy joins the Muay Thai team, proving his worth and eventually feeling like a member of the team despite the language barrier.
Prayer Before Dawn is a brilliantly made film of an unbearably torturous story. Films that premier at Cannes have the raison d'être to showcase films that feel more like documentaries rather than dramas, using long takes and believable performances in a very personal and deeply unsettling journey of a young man navigating through corrupt officers, prison brutality and gang threats; if you’re not a fan of grim realities then this film may not be for you.
Prayer Before Dawn is released on 20th of July, 2018.
Words by Sunny Ramgolam @SunnyRamgolam