For all the flying fists and the hero’s nightmarish predicament, the notions of redemption examined here are plenty deep. Add that to the bone-crunchingly effective technique and flawless lead performance, and you have yourself something very rare: a testosterone-driven narrative that’s about nurturing, rather than destruction. And one that achieves a bleeding-knuckled profundity.
Stream A Prayer Before Dawn
What are people saying?
What are critics saying?
Jean-Stephane Sauvaire’s film is not so much the story of a fighter as it is a story that wants to fight you.
A Prayer Before Dawn is concerned above all with ensuring that we share its main character's sense of dislocation and entrapment.
Cole, best known for a supporting role in the TV series Peaky Blinders, gives everything to this role. It’s a physical transformation in which he convincingly plays a beaten, battered-to-a-pulp boxer who learns the rules of Muay Thai, but also a deep internal reach to deliver a complex, defiantly self-sabotaging character with depth of understanding.
At once exhausting and astonishing, this no-holds-barred adaptation of British junkie-turned-pugilist Billy Moore’s Thai prison memoir is a big, bleeding feat of extreme cinema, given elevating human dimension by rising star Joe Cole’s ferociously physical lead performance.
Prayer dwells with almost swooning rapture on the bodies of young men as they mete out brutal violence on one another, and features a cast composed mostly of unknowns, impressively coached in order to deliver arresting turns onscreen.
Director Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire (Johnny Mad Dog) makes some audacious, impressionistic choices, focusing on the nexus of sensual and brutal, but this is the rare true story that really could have used some creative embellishment.
What makes A Prayer Before Dawn so powerful is also what makes it so punishing.
It’s not a reinvention of the genre, but it is a fairly engrossing variation on a theme. And that’s in large part due to the violence — sexual and otherwise — it recreates.
No one would accuse it of breaking new ground, or finding fascinating new paths across its well-worn prison yard. But Sauvaire’s drama is lean and trim and unwavering in its task.