Movie Review: A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN - Fight Your Way Out

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Movie Review: A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN - Photo credit:, Edition by Amber255 via

A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN is another film of the best 50 movies of 2018. This time, it is a film based on true story created by a biography book. The Liverpool gangster wrote his sensational book to protect other people from inhuman conditions in Thai prisons.

The Cannes festival films are always different from the usual tapes: the atmosphere in the hall is completely different, as well as the attitude of people to what is happening on the screen. Involuntarily you begin to perceive work more deeply, more consciously, more emotionally - certainly, the competitive film A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN fell under this influence.

A movie about violence based on a real story - this is how the A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN is described. 
The work of Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire forces you to feel silent in front of the screen, and the movie itself is like a silent movie. If you want to feel what it is to get into someone else's society without knowing the language and try to survive there in any way, then the A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN must necessarily be on your shortlist.

A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN is a true story, a real prison drama. This is a film about survival, love, and redemption, but above all is a unique human story. - Joe Cole


A movie about violence based on a real story - this is how the A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN is described.
The work of Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire forces you to feel silent in front of the screen, and the movie itself is like a silent movie. If you want to feel what it is to get into someone else's society without knowing the language and try to survive there in any way, then the A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN must necessarily be on your shortlist.

Director Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire decided to make a film only when after reading a boxer’s book of memoirs about the time spent in a Thai prison, he met him in the face and fell in love with this sensitive and sensual guy who was ready to cry at any moment.

A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN, Official Trailer - Video credit: A24Films via

The Short Story Of The Movie

It's the real story of an English guy from Liverpool named Billy Moore living in the twenty-first century, where the viewer lives too. Difficult childhood, his violent father pushed the guy to use drugs. Where there are drugs, as a rule, there are various crimes related to the driving of the car, theft, to get money to buy drugs.

It was this path that Billy Moore's life rolled by, and it stopped on imprisonment in Great Britain. After serving his sentence, Billy decides to start a new life, for which he leaves for Thailand.

However, drugs continue to haunt him at the new place, although at first, he did not use them. But appeared that it's not so easy to break up with them; it’s easy just getting together with them easily. So, the new life of Billy again turns to the path of theft of goods and firearms, ending with arrest, accusation, and landing in prison, known for brutal orders, where everything is solved with the help of violence. 


50 best movies of 2018: A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN - Photo credit:

For drugs, the hero gets two years. It seems that this is not such a long time for a crime. But two years in this correctional facility may seem like an eternity. Even to get the proper portion of fresh water, he had to fight. 

But it is not only misfortunes haunt Billy. He was lucky to get into the Thai fighters of boxing, Muay Thai, asking his organizers to take him into the community to win his freedom by winning the tournament. Daily workouts make him stronger, more enduring. The hero is ready to go through any difficulties to survive and get free.

The life of the Thai prison is shown almost in documentary form.


The prison film A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN - Photo credit:

The Content Of The Movie 

The short annotation that this picture is not for the faint of heart, the film justified in full. Scenes of murder, rape, moral pressure on people caused a mixed reaction in the hall: someone could not stand it and left; someone stayed but cried because of what was happening on the screen.

The work of Jean-Stephan Sauvaire should have caused rejection first, and later, the director himself confirmed it; otherwise, it is simply impossible to fully feel the changes in the hero's fate.

Each blow byThai prisoner on the body of Moore in the ring or outside it pushes Billy to the retaliatory act: a fight, attempts of suicide or being in prison solitary confinement. 

 A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN film once again showed that there is no better plot than the one that wrote life.


Film based on true story - A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN - Photo credit:

The director's goal was not to show violence for the sake of violence, but to show violence as a means of survival. How he succeeded, it is up to the viewer to decide. Another point worth mentioning is that the director does not try to divide people into good and bad because each person becomes one or the other depending on the circumstances.

Immersing the viewer in a trance by it its cruel realism, A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN fits well into the Pleiad of the best contemporary prison films, such as, such as Starred Up by David McKenzieOnly when out of the darkness dozens of legs and fists silently fall on the main character, before clamping him in the corner near the prison urinal, it seems that you are looking not just at the prison drama, but quite a real horror.

There we see only the harsh reality, cruel Asian criminals tattooed from bald to heels, and the transformation of the main character from an emotional sticky, ready to sell his mother for a dose, in a self-confident cold-blooded professional boxer.

The picture is extremely uncomfortable for the viewer, but it is so organic for its theme and artistic task that, after watching the first half hour, you will not want to run out anymore, but you almost share the hardships that have befallen on the hero.


A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN - Photo credit:

The Personages Of The Movie

The main hero of the picture was boxer Billy Moore  played by the rising British star Joe Cole, who because of the use and distribution of drugs ended up in a Thai prison, where he experienced all the charms of imprisonment in a foreign country.

Billy's life quickly turns from useless stagnation into an intolerable prison hell. No matter how strong you are, you can’t do anything when a dozen aggressive Thais surround you in the cell. Especially when they grab some poor fellow and alternately rape him in front of the hero. 

Each of them has many tattoos and is ready to pierce your throat with the piece of a bottle, even for a minor reason. But Billy learns fast. He makes relations and even falls in love. Soon Moore is transferred to the cell where members of the prison boxing team live. But he can not live a day without heroin, which so destroys Billy's brain, that he, intoxicated by drugs, is ready to crush anyone with naked hands if will be asked to.


Joe Cole in A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN  - Photo credit:

The director said that Joe has cruelty that he needs to play such a guy. And at the same time, there is a sensitivity, important for the character. After all, Billy has two sides: one is brutal and gloomy, and the second is vulnerable.

 The Technical Side Of The Movie 

The director for the shooting used portable cameras, achieving the effect when the viewer thinks that he is next to Billy in the prison cell. So, people with a weak nervous system is better not to watch this film

Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire's film strikes with the physicality of the tape: large cream strokes slide across Moore's face before the fight; tattooed Thai backs are constantly climbing into the frame striving to overshadow all action, blood gushing from the throat of the protagonist on the eve of a responsible match.

The film rather resembles a two-hour documentary film about Thai prisons, which shows in detail the life of prisoners and the problems that they face in everyday life. At first glance, a rather bold decision to move away from the plot and dialogues only hide the banal lack of history. The spectator is forced to wait for the very final battle, occasionally wince from the cruel scenes and their naturalism.


A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN - Photo credit:

But I liked video and sound montage. Long plans dominate in the montage of the tape. The limited gray color segment does not leave the color palette. The soundtrack is minimal and is manifested only by abstract ambient at key points. Of the stylistic techniques - lights appearing no more often than musical accompaniment.

Separately, I want to praise the above-mentioned atmosphere of a Thai prison, in which hopelessness is in the air and felt in every frame. The detailed constructed claustrophobic world of prisoners is perfectly conveyed primarily because most of the mass actors consisted of real prisoners of Thailand.

A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN interview - Joe Cole & Director Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire - Video credit: freshfiction via

The Collective Work Of The Actors

The role of Billy Moore was played by Joe Cole, the star of Peaky Blinders and Green Room. The main character, or rather, the antihero, barely knows Thai, so he speaks little. His body and face speak more for him. His muscular figure and clenched jaw tell the viewer about his inner experiences. 

For his role, the actor sat on a special diet for several months (Thai food and a lot of protein), and studied Muay Thai techniques, regularly working with champions in the sport, some of whom learned boxing in prison.

If the character of Billy Moore is performed by English actor Joe Cole, who became thirty years old in November of 2018, his cellmates are played by real tattooed prisoners who have gone through a brutal prison "school" on their own experience, having spent there ten to fifteen years.


A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN review - Photo credit:

The main character, or rather, the anti-hero, barely knows Thai, so he speaks little. His body and face speak more for him. His muscular figure and clenched jaw tell the viewer about his inner experiences.

Before the start of filming, the director spent a year in Thailand, recruiting former felons, real members of gangster groups and boxers into the project. A local star, the Vithaya Pansringarm also entered this cast.

 They create the nightmarish environment around the hero, under which he has to adapt without knowing the language, but with a desire to survive. This, in turn, was made possible thanks to the wonderful acting of Joe Cole, for whom this role should be a breakthrough. Under his forced emotionless lies a magnificent physical transformation.


Movie Review: A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN -  Photo credit:

 On The Final Note

When a person is driven into a corner, when here and now the question of his life and death is solved, he is ready for everything so that the choice falls on the life, not the death. The only chance to survive in this hell on Earth is to fight, fight for your life by all available means.

In real life, the hero served two years in a Thai prison and became a local Muay Thai champion.

Probably, I must say that sympathy and compassion is the last thing that film director Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire is seeking from the audience. Despite that A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN is completely based on a true story, the director refuses to overly romanticized and immediately shows us an anti-hero who is just trying to correct his mistake. However, emotionalism unexpectedly pops up where you expect it less of all in the prison thriller - in a sudden love story, which, although it contributes to humanity, it hurts the film itself


At the event of A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN - Photo credit:

In the A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN, there will be no climbs to boxing glory a la Rocky. This is primarily a movie about winning over yourself and turning from a hot-tempered drug addict boxer into a person with a hardened will. It is more like a daily excursion into a Thai prison and first of all, tell the real story of a man who hides primitive fear in order to simply survive.

It’s a haunting and masterful effort, but be warned: This is tough stuff.


Note that there are scenes of cruelty, rape, murder, blood, drug addiction, sex, fierce fights in the ring, so think about if you are ready for such views before turning on this movie. 

My rating: 8.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 92/ 100
Metacritic: 7.6/100
Critics average: 7.6/10
IMDb: 6.9/10




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