A Prayer Before Dawn, directed by Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire, is an unflinchingly visceral film that drags you kicking and screaming into a terrifying, hostile environment; one you don’t at first want to be in, but slowly you find yourself gripped; not wanting to leave, and soon you are consumed my its unpredictable terror. To put it plainly: A Prayer Before Dawn is a film unlike anything else and that makes it one that I’m really excited to talk about and review, so let’s get to it.
Billy Moore – played by Joe Cole – is a lost soul whose addictions to drugs and fighting land him in one of Thailand’s most notorious prisons. The shock of his new environment sends Billy spiralling into an even more dangerous mental space and it’s only the structure of boxing that may be his salvation.
The overwhelming experience that A Prayer Before Dawn offers can almost feel like an inescapable one, and it’s all the more effective because the film was actually filmed in a real working Taiwanese prison. We rarely – of ever – leave Billy’s side. The claustrophobic way in which the camera remains glued to Billy during his horrifying journey means you’ll be there for every moment of tension and violence. It really is an encompassing experience. From the very beginning and then throughout I felt a part of Billy’s story and it made for a film that I couldn’t and didn’t want to leave.
What’s interesting about the presentation of this film is that there are a number of hurdles that we the audience have to overcome, and some of them happen to be the same hurdles that Billy has to deal with. One of the major ones is the language barrier. There are no subtitles in this film; what is being said by the other Taiwanese prisoners is to an extent a mystery. We – just like Billy – are left to interpret what they are saying. This is one of the ways in which the film connects us to Billy’s struggles and has us feeling a part of the story.
And connecting elements like this are necessary, I feel, as Billy isn’t the easiest person to like. Billy was a character who I feared. There is an unpredictable, untamed rage that exists in him and when it comes out it’s something you want to hide from. This made for a lead character that was very interesting to try to form a bond with – especially because of the dualities in his personality.
You see, even though there were times where Billy was an unrecognisable monster who instilled fear throughout me. There were other times where he looked like a lost, scared little boy who was severely out of his depth. In those moments I fully empathised and cared for Billy and it was all the easier thanks to the well of emotion that existed in Joe Cole’s eyes.
Billy became someone I wanted to support and who I soon began to care about during his journey. This all comes together in an extremely rich and nuanced character – one that posed questions and had me fully engrossed in his story. What (who) made Billy the way he is? Is there hope for him? Can he become the person I think he can be? Above everything, this film’s main character is someone who challenges you and grounds you in a place where rules and decency don’t apply. Your only friend in all the madness is a monster with a heart.
And that’s why those connecting elements I mentioned are so vital to Billy as a character. Without them, I don’t think Billy, or the film, would have been one that I would have felt as invested in. This isn’t an easy film to watch or digest. There are many moments that had me uncomfortable, disturbed or overwhelmed with tension. We need Billy and in a weird way it seemed like he needed us. Connecting us to him and making the journey feel like a partnership was so necessary to make the experience feel worth it – and it was.
None of this would have worked without the incredible direction by Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire and the work of his crew, whose work on the technical side support the narrative decisions of the film. This film is shot in such a deeply engaging way. I mentioned the claustrophobic feel of the film and the camera and its positioning plays such an integral part to that. Having us so close to Billy; having us feel as much trapped as he is, plays into the fully rounded effect of the film. Everything is so targeted towards fulfilling the overall experience, and Sauvaire and the team around him did an outstanding job of accomplishing that.
But absolutely none of it would have worked without the astounding performance by Joe Cole. He is a talent I have watched for a while now – whether it was his brilliant stint on the BBC show, Peaky Blinders, his endearing performance in the most recent season of Black Mirror or his brief but explosive showing in Green Room; Joe Cole is always an actor who leaves his mark on a project – A Prayer Before Dawn being no different.
Joe Cole gives over every part of himself for this performance – both physically and mentally. He disappears into the role and out comes the terrifying beast that is Billy Moore. It’s a performance where you sit back in awe of the commitment by Cole. What excites me the most is that he still feels like an untapped, young British talent who’s going to go on to do something truly incredible. He’s the kind of actor who gives me Tom Hardy vibes – an actor who fully immerses themselves in a role and nearly always produces something unforgettable. Cole’s work in A Prayer Before Dawn is undoubtedly his best yet and I’m really excited to see him go onto either match it or top it.
Perhaps the only issue I found in A Prayer Before Dawn is that the film loses some of tis steam in the final act. I think the film would have really benefited from being paced a little better in the third act and having its runtime tightened up a little bit. I mainly point this issue out because for nearly all of this film I was of the opinion I was watching something flawless. I kept being blown away by the gritty realness that then bled into every aspect of the film and heightening its quality. It was only in that final act that I saw a few cracks in the flawless armour. Without them, I personally would have considered this a perfect film – that’s how much I liked it.
But don’t let that minor gripe take away from the fact that this is an astounding piece of cinema. This is one of those films where even if you don’t like it that much, it will certainly make some sort of impact on you. After the film had finished and I was making my way home, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I immediately messaged my friend whose also quite the film enthusiast and insisted he make the opportunity to see it. This is a film I can’t, and won’t stop thinking about for the rest of the year, and it’s one I can more than assure you will end up on my list of standout films from 2018.
So I think it’s obvious that I recommend, A Prayer Before Dawn. Please go see this film! Please go support this film! And if you like it, please recommend it to other people! I want this film to get as much attention as possible. I really hope you like/liked this film as much as me and share in my enthusiasm.
I’d absolutely love to know what you thought of both the film and my review of it, so please feel free to leave any feedback or opinions you may have, in the comments section down below. If you liked what you read, may I ask that you consider following both/either my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – and help me to grow what I’m creating here? Anyway, I’ll stop rambling on now and finish by offering you my thanks. Thank you for dedicating some of your time towards reading my review, I truly to appreciate it. Have a wonderful day!