The story of British prisoner Billy Moore comes to life, complete with a very powerful performance by Joe Cole in the role of Moore.
A British boxer with a major drug problem, Billy Moore has come to Thailand to train in Muay Thai and give himself a better life. However, when things at first don’t bode well, Billy finds solace in drugs. That is, until he is busted by authorities and sent to the country’s most notorious prison. He soon finds himself in turmoil day after day, finding himself bullied and at times, attempting to keep on with his drug habit. That is until one day, he finds an opportunity to change.
Seeing that the prison holds Muay Thai tournaments and learning that the fights can eventually lead to a possible pardon, Billy asks for permission to train and learn to fight. At first reluctant, the prison trainer eventually lets Billy train. As Billy begins to compete, he finds himself standing up for himself and eventually kicking his drug habit once and for all. However, when an incident coincides on the day Billy is ready to fight for his freedom, the question is will Billy actually survive his final match on the road to freedom?
Based on the true story of the lead character, this film brings a sense of realism to the forefront with director Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire setting the film in an actual Thai prison with that prison’s real incarcerated prisoners serving as extras. Taking Moore’s memoir, the duo of Jonathan Hirschbein and Nick Saltrese brings the story to life in true form as this is not so much a sports movie, but a real story of redemption and it is just that in case of Billy Moore.
Originally to have been played by Charlie Hunnam, the role of Billy would eventually go to Joe Cole. Cole perfects the role of the embittered and redemption-seeking Moore. Cole, who has had similar roles, notably in 2012’s Offender, brings that embittered soul to the role. Cole handles himself really well with the right fights in well, training extensively in Muay Thai and boxing for the role. Look out for Olympic gold medalist boxer and Muay Thai kickboxer Somluck Khamsing as Billy’s prison trainer in the film.
Many prison films seem to result in a bit of forced acting, making them not as believable as one would think. However, in the case of this film, the fact that real-life prisoners are serving as extras, it is as if at times, we are watching a documentary. In fact, a recently released documentary, Five Rounds to Freedom, may have helped inspire bringing this film to life as it involves Thai prisoners who would compete in matches to either lessen their sentence or gain a royal pardon. The portrayal of the prison has such a realistic feel that it will make the viewer think twice about causing trouble in Thailand.
The film may have the sense of realism as we see Billy endure punishment either through training or being bullied. However, there is a sympathetic character in the form of a ladyboy who respects Billy and not so much love him, but helps him overcome his adversity in the prison and even helps him slowly kick his addiction. It is clear that Billy has a lot of demons and when he finally finds the right outlet, it is a shocking twist that can lead to a shocking conclusion. But all is not lost as the real Moore appears in the film as his own father in a flashback sequence.
A Prayer Before Dawn is a very realistic look at prison life in Thailand and the story of a man whose road to redemption is clearly not without its obstacles. Joe Cole is the reason to see this film as he couldn’t be any more perfect in the role of Billy Moore.
WFG RATING: A+
A24 Films presents a Senorita Films/Meridian Entertainment/Symbolic Exchange production in association with Indochina Productions, HanWay Films, with the participation of Canal+ and Ciné+. Director: Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire. Producers: Nicholas Simon, Roy Bouter, Rita Dagher, and Sol Papadopoulos. Writers: Jonathan Hirschbein and Nick Saltrese; based on the memoir by Billy Moore. Cinematography: David Ungaro. Editing: Marc Boucrot.
Cast: Joe Cole, Vithaya Pansringarm, Somluck Khamsing, Pornchanok Mabklang, Sura Sirmalai, Sakda Niamhom, Chaloemporn Sawatsuk, Komsan Polsan, Nicolas Shake, Billy Moore.