A Prayer Before Dawn (2018) review

Rated: 3.5 / 5

The trailer looked promising for this limited release film (so limited it wasn’t playing in any of the theaters near me).  So I checked to see if Vudu was streaming it.  Sure enough, it was, so I made the $6.99 rental purchase.  It was worth it.

This is a film that, pardon the expression, pulls no punches.  It’s one of the grittiest films I’ve ever seen.  When the protagonist Billy gets arrested and sent to Thai prison, it all looks raw and real.  Partly because it is raw and real, because they shot this film on location, at the actual Thai prison where the events of this film took place.  Because this film is based on a true story.  It’s about this English guy from the UK who takes on Muay Thai Kickboxing in Thailand, but also has a drug problem, and has isolated himself from any family members abroad by using an alias name.  So when he gets arrested for drug possession and sent to prison, he’s on his own.  No money, no family to know where he is, nothing.  He has to cope with being in a place surrounded by people whose language he can barely understand (they speak Thai, there are subtitles, but the subtitles aren’t used most of the time, keeping the viewer as bewildered in this world as the Billy).  And on top of that, on his first night there, he witnesses a guy getting gang-raped (not much is left to the imagination).

Enough time is spent in the prison with the prisoners that not only Billy, but the viewer starts to get used to it all, in spite of the grimy conditions.  Cigarettes for currency, betting on fish fights (seriously, they bet on which fish will win when 2 fish fight each other to the death; the only cock fights in this prison are the ones competing for which ass they will penetrate).  And eventually, a bond kind of gets shared with everyone in there.  They are all doing their own hard time for different reasons (one of them admits to being a hitman who killed 2 people).

But the main thing that drove me to see this movie (and by drove, I mean reaching for my credit card to purchase it online, not using up gasoline in a vehicle and contributing to the exaggerated greenhouse gasses, so you Green Peace people should be thanking me) is the fights.  But this film is done in a similar vane as the earlier Creed movie.  There are only 3 major fights in this film, one at the beginning, middle, and end.  This film is primarily a drama, but it also aims to be a character study and inspirational film.  The film (and the novel from what I understand) is all about showing one man’s downward spiral due to drug addiction and severe anger issues (he’s no pushover wimp when he’s in prison, he goes apeshit some of the time, and it gets a bit disturbing when it happens).  His road to recovery is slow, and it’s subtle.  So subtle some may wonder if there was even an arc.  But there is one, as he realizes the toll his lifestyle takes on him both physically and mentally.  And the only way out for him is to get back into kickboxing, only doing it in prison, where apparently it’s a thing for one prison’s best kickboxer to compete against another prison’s best kickboxer for bragging rights, and because there’s some gambling involved.

The best fight scene in this film is easily the 2nd one.  This scene seems to be made for the sole purpose of topping that “single-take” fight scene in Creed.  It’s like they’re saying, “You think that scene is raw and gritty and takes a lot of talent to pull off to look legit?  Well wait until you see this!”  And no exaggerating here, that 2nd fight scene is one of the best I’ve ever seen in my life.  It goes on for a long time.  And by long time, I mean 4 full minutes.  I mean, it may not be a single take, but damn are there a lot of long takes.  This isn’t a quick-cut shakey-cam fight sequence, it’s like you’re watching an actual fight happening, nothing Hollywood-like or flashy, just realistic and gritty.  The hits seem real.  None of it looks telegraphed.  It belongs on a top 20 fight scenes of all time list.  It’s worth watching the film just for that sequence alone.  But the rest of the movie is pretty damn solid too.

By the end of the film, we see someone make a cameo appearance.  That someone is the guy who lived the events in this film and wrote the book the film is adapted from, Billy Moore.  It’s a great moment, the perfect place to have a cameo like that, giving the film the biggest impact possible.  The film becomes a bit inspiring at the end, and it feels earned considering how exhausting it can be getting through it all (but this is intentional, the exhaustion).  It’s a long 2 hour runtime, but it feels necessary just to make the world all seem real, to show the ins and outs of the prison, and the prison lifestyle, and what one can feel while they’re in the prison.

Highly recommended film.


PS: Oh yeah, and Billy gets in a relationship with a tranny.  Well, when in prison…


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