A Prayer Before Dawn (2018)

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Critic Consensus: A Prayer Before Dawn is far from an easy watch, but this harrowing prison odyssey delivers rich rewards -- led by an outstanding central performance from Joe Cole.

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A Prayer Before Dawn is the remarkable true story of Billy Moore, a young English boxer incarcerated in two of Thailand's most notorious prisons. He is quickly thrown into a terrifying world of drugs and gang violence, but when the prison authorities allow him to take part in the Muay Thai boxing tournaments, he realizes this might be his chance to get out. Billy embarks on a relentless, action-packed journey from one savage fight to the next, stopping at nothing to do whatever he must to preserve his life and regain his freedom. Shot in a an actual Thai prison with a cast of primarily real inmates, A Prayer Before Dawn is a visceral, thrilling journey through an unforgettable hell on earth.

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Critic Reviews for A Prayer Before Dawn

All Critics (60) | Top Critics (11)

Once the audience adjusts to its rhythms, it exerts a powerful fascination.

Aug 10, 2018 | Full Review…

A remarkable feat that requires a strong stomach to sit through.

Aug 10, 2018 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

Sauvaire isn't interested in this regional version of the sweet science ... [he] simply needs it to immerse viewers deeper into a world of violence and pain.

Aug 9, 2018 | Rating: 3.5/5 | Full Review…

Presented with an agitated camera and a bare minimum of subtitles, "A Prayer Before Dawn" adheres to neither the familiar beats of the boxing movie nor the claustrophobic machinations of the typical prison drama.

Aug 9, 2018 | Full Review…

Although gruesome and grueling, it's an immersive, deeply powerful and darkly inspiring tale.

Aug 9, 2018 | Full Review…

A Prayer Before Dawn feels scarily authentic, and may be too much for some. But there are moments of grace amid the setting's despair.

Aug 8, 2018 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for A Prayer Before Dawn

Joe Cole does incredible work as a runaway Brit hiding out and drugging up in Thailand when he gets tossed into one of the most notorious hellhole prisons on Planet Earth. They use the big ladle to slather on the testosterone throughout this nightmare-on-wheels and that is too obvious after a bit, but the power of the tale is nonetheless undeniable. Man cave essential viewing coming up.

Kevin M. Williams
Kevin M. Williams

Super Reviewer

½

The feel bad hit of the summer has arrived. As A24 continues to distribute quality, accessible cinema, we are once again treated to a relatively unknown auteur's breakout success. This time, it's Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire's A Prayer Before Dawn . Premiering at Cannes and later SXSW, this brutal mashup of Bronson, Raging Bull, and Midnight Express takes us into the dark world of Muay Thai boxing through the eyes of a true life antihero. Billy Moore (played here by Peaky Blinders' Joe Cole) was a career criminal, drug addict, and occasional boxer in Thailand sentenced to prison for drug crimes, and relegated to one of the most violent and inhumane corners of incarceration in the world. Between his erratic violent behavior and general lack of criminal finesse, it's hard to pity him as much as Midnight Express' subject, Billy Hayes (what is it with westerners named Billy being stuck in foreign prisons for drug crimes?), as it is fairly easy to understand much less celebrate Moore being locked up. But man, is this prison brutal. The film pulls no punches in showing just how much of a hell on Earth this place is. Seriously, you think your life is going bad? You think you got it rough? Hold my Ya ba because you're in for a surprise. I wouldn't wish this kind of torture on my worst enemy - well, scratch that, maybe I would on a list of modern conservative politicians. But Billy is seriously trapped in hell with hundreds of tatooed demons who want to torture, rape, and kill him (with only a few ladyboy angels for respite). The only thing to spoil this awful mood is that we all know that he makes it out alive, otherwise he couldn't write a memoir about his experience. Since there is hardly any dialogue and we know how it turns out, the real narrative thrust is in the visceral bodily destruction. We watch this junkie train his body and mind to withstand the barrage of horrors guaranteed to him daily. As you would expect, the fight scenes tie the film together like any traditional boxing flick. There aren't a whole lot of tricks to be had in that arena, but here they follow Billy's ephemeral perspective. When he's yanked out on Ya ba, the camerawork is erratic and jumpy, when he's sobered, there is a clarity to the frame. The film also sets itself apart from the standard boxing drama with an almost otherworldly, mystical quality. From the ritualistic pre-fight rubdowns to the ritualistic freebasing, from the intimacy of a prison tattoo to the intimacy of two men reduced to animals, beating each other and locking up into some twisted, hateful embrace, there is a primal and supernatural sense that pervades the film. It's violence is not easy to watch, but the story is nonetheless awe inspiring.

K Nife Churchkey
K Nife Churchkey

Super Reviewer

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