A Prayer Before Dawn           review by Bobby Blakey

I love all things martial arts, but am partial to both Tae Kwon Do and Muay Thai, so if these are the focal points then I am all in. Take that and blend it with the fish out of water aspect as well as a true story and you have something that has the potential to be really good. The latest, A Prayer Before Dawn stars Joe Cole and is directed by Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire and was shot on location in an actual Thai prison with a cast of primarily real inmates, but does it offer up the intense brutality it promises or should it get life behind bars?

A Prayer Before Dawn follows 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. I had read about this story after the first trailer came out, but was not fully ready for what they delivered. This a gritty, powerful film that is as visually dirty and real as it is violent. This is not a bad thing by any means as this is exactly what it needed to bring the realism to this true story.

The choice to film in a real Thai prison using actual ex-Thai inmates makes it so much more impactful. The prison itself is a character in the story, but pales in comparison to the hardships and danger that Moore faces. Joe Cole brings a great intensity to the role while having only a few moments of sensitivity and fear reminding you it doesn’t always matter how tough you think you are. While Muay Thai is front and center in the film there is a lot of time devoted to his journey through the prison systems and it not a pretty thing in anyway. The Muay Thai sides of it are just as compelling and well executed as the rest of the film. I loved that instead of just the generic training montages and fights they chose to showcase these along with the importance of brotherhood in the Muay Thai community. The respect factor to each other in the camp is showcased through both taking care of the fighters and pushing them to their limits. One of my favorite scenes involves the aftermath of Cole disrespecting another fighter and the gym and how they not only make him earn his forgiveness, but also show they do it for the love of their brother.

The fights here are fairly brutal, but nothing overly hyped Hollywood style. They used real Muay Thai fighters with Cole stepping in the ring to go toe to toe with them. The bonus features showcase his commitment to the role and how hard he pushed himself to be in the ring with them. Of course they held back a bit I am sure, but clearly they were making him earn that place among them and he did just that. There are elements that only a true fighter or martial artist will connect with which is rare in these kinds of films, but I applaud it for its realism and truth. This is a hard film to watch at times, but when dealing with this kind of story and environment how could it really work otherwise.

If I had one major complaint it was the final art for the box release. It looks way more commercial and generic whereas the original posters capture more of the gritty reality of the film so I have attached one of those as well in hopes people step up to check this film out. In addition to the film this release offers up featurettes that take you deep into the world of bringing this film to life. Prepare to fight for your life and grab your copy of A Prayer Before Dawn when it hits Blu-ray and DVD on October 9th from Lionsgate Home Entertainment.

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