Saturday, September 1, 2018

Movie Review: "A Prayer Before Dawn" (2018)

Director: Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire
Year: 2018
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 56 minutes

The story of Billy Moore, an English national living in Thailand, focusing on the time he spent in a Thai prison.

"Smash them. They are not good for my business." (Image Source)
The few people who saw the trailer for "A Prayer Before Dawn" know it was marketed with a heavy focus on the Thai Boxing portion of the film, so it makes sense that we were expecting a movie about a drug addict who finds sobriety and redemption through fighting for a Thai prison. This is not exactly that film. "A Prayer Before Dawn" is directed by Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire, who has directed other projects like "Johnny Mad Dog" and the TV movie "Punk." It is written by Jonathan Hirschbein and Nick Saltrese and is based on the true-life memoirs of Billy Moore. As a young man living in Thailand, Moore would spend his time boxing and freebasing until he was arrested for drugs, weapons, and possession of stolen goods. He gets sentenced to three years and must subsequently navigate his way through the dangers of a Thai prison where he doesn't speak the language and doesn't fully comprehend the culture. Oh, and he Thai boxes a little.
"Prison is for men, not for dogs." (Image Source)
You thought life in prison was bad? Well, guess what! Life in a Thai prison is way worse. It totally sucks, and "A Prayer Before Dawn" really, really drives home that fact. This is a slow-paced character sketch about a flawed person who wound up in a terrible place because he participated in criminal activities. As one might expect since this movie takes place in Thailand, much of the spoken language of the film is Thai. What one might not expect is that there are very few subtitles. This is an attempt by director Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire to allow the audience to share in Billy Moore's confusion as a stranger in a foreign country. Since he doesn't understand the language, we don't get to either, unless you speak Thai. That being said, there isn't much meaningful dialogue anyway, so it doesn't matter come film's end. This project is far more focused on visual storytelling. Most of the time, we can get behind this style of filmmaking, but being that this story focuses on drugs, violence, and life in prison, it can make for a dramatically depressing experience. Just in case you were wondering, there is no topic left off-limits. After all, this is based on a true story. ***potentially triggering spoiler*** There is an extended graphic anal gang rape scene that threw us completely off-guard. When we say graphic, we mean it, and this scene was a bit much for us. The sports aspect of the story seems more of a footnote than anything. Boxing doesn't do all that much to improve Billy's situation, other than giving him something to do to occupy his time and maybe release some of the overabundant amounts of aggression he has as a person. Despite his opportunity to box, it is still not enough to keep him out of trouble. The Thai boxing scenes themselves leave something to be desired. The camerawork is too tight, the editing is frenetically cut up, and the angles are too closely concentrated on the fighters to the point where we could hardly see them fight at all, even on the big screen.
"Why don't you care about each other?" (Image Source)
"A Prayer Before Dawn" is not a poorly made movie by any means, but keep in mind it is a plodding character piece that isn't necessarily going to interest everyone and won't have mass audience appeal. There never seems to be much of a point beyond what we already know: don't, under any circumstances, get arrested in Thailand.

My Rating: 5.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 5/10
IMDB's Rating: ~7.0/10
RT Rating: ~94%
Do we recommend this movie: Meh.

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