If ever a film could capture the raw strength of the human spirit, it is A Prayer Before Dawn. Adapted from Billy Moore’s real-life 2014 memoir A Prayer Before Dawn: A Nightmare In Thailand, in which he opens up about his gruelling experience in two of Thailand’s most notorious prisons. Director Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s portrayal of Moore’s endurance delivers one hell of an emotional uppercut.

The film sees hard-talking scouse boxer Billy Moore’s (Joe Cole) fight for survival in Thailand’s brutal carceral system, in which Cole gives a career defining performance. Incarcerated in Bang Kwang jail for hard drug use, our protagonist finds himself immersed in a world where violent gestures are the mother tongue and hierarchy is at the very core of survival. Moore is quickly shown that his fellow inmates take no prisoners; jumped by a group of testosterone fuelled convicts keen to assert their dominance, Moore is given a cruel and disturbing baptism of fire. Things begin to brighten ever so slightly, however, as he manages to bribe his way into the prison’s boxing team. Now, Moore must use his skill as a trained boxer to fight his way to the top.

The term poetic violence seems a tad oxymoronic, yet there seems to be no phrase more apt to describe the result of Sauvaire’s directorial style. The French director definitely brings an air of elegance to the brutality. Skillfully crafted cinematography melds with a powerful use of diegetic sound to immerse the audience in Moore’s draining experience.

Alienation also seems to be one of the film’s key devices, which places you firmly in the shoes of the protagonist. Sauvaire’s choice not to translate the Thai dialogue of the film, which is the majority of the communication seen on screen, leaves the audience as baffled and irate as Moore. This, when added to the dizzying camera angles used during fight scenes, maintains an enduring tension which lingers throughout the duration of the film, making Moore’s violent outbursts oddly cathartic.

Films with a level of violence such as this are often met with a style-over-substance criticism, implying that the end result is often empty and skilless. It is safe to say that Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire tells this kind of critic where to stick it. Was the violence difficult to stomach? Undoubtedly. But to water down the intensity of authentic experiences which were all too real for Billy Moore would do him a terrible injustice.

Now a reformed man who devotes his time to helping other addicts, in an interview with Professor Green, Moore opens up about toxic masculinity. He confesses that he used to think that being a man meant being ‘someone who doesn’t cry’, but that ‘being a man today is having feelings’ and ‘being human’. This is a concern which is subtly yet very poingently echoed throughout the film. The prison setting provides the ideal platform upon which to display and criticise the harsh realities of such an outdated mindset. In this hotbed of toxic masculinity there are moments where Moore can no longer keep up with the hypermasculine facade and begins to cry. These honest moments of vulnerability are where the film flourishes. The only criticism to be made here would be a request for more of these moments.

Overall, despite the violence being a little hard to stomach, the film leaves you with a restored faith in the human spirit and a renewed respect for our ability to endure.

4 stars

Credit: Movie DB

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