Based on his memoir - adapted for the screen by Jonathan Hirschbein and Nick Saltrese - A Prayer Before Dawn is the brutal, visceral story of Billy Moore (Joe Cole), a drug using boxer caught then imprisoned in Thailand’s Chiang Mia jail, and virtually left to fend for himself.

A raid on his abode and Moore is arrested and imprisoned for drugs offences. Despite being an addict there’s no rehabilitation programme, so Moore has to deal with both incarceration and addiction. As he sets about adjusting to the prison culture and dealing with the politics of the place, he inevitably comes to the attention of the gangs that run the place. With almost total freedom, ritually tattooed they rule by their own set of codes and standards that frequently result in violence and exploitation. A man is gang raped in an appalling scene with Moore close by and the smiling faces of the assailants in his. Its just the way things are.

As much as he can Moore settles down to prison life trading in tobacco to sate his addiction, dealing with the guards and gangs as best he can. Sporadic violence is the norm. It’s then that he gets involved in the Thai boxing group. Though initially rejected he persists and is eventually let in. It’s here that Moore earns some respect to the extent that he is given his own tattoo in a scene that is almost tender as the fighters hold and caress Moore, to help him deal with the pain of the ritual.

Moore’s stock rises as he fights but as he does so he gets weaker. The drugs and fighting have taken their toll and he suffers from life threatening internal injuries. Advised not to fight he does, the gangs are now involved leaving him little choice. This all builds to an odd, surreal closing sequence that we are assured is true.

Director Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s technique immerses the viewer in some dizzying fight scenes. It’s a subjective method that also realises Moore’s confusion with the rules and culture, further brought home as there are no subtitles thus giving the viewer an idea of Moore’s torrment.

Joe Cole is virtually the only professional actor in the film and doesn’t actually have that much dialogue. Bulking up for the role, he looks every inch a boxer, and it works on a number of levels. He naturally has to fight but it is also a remarkable performance of some depth of a man plunged into an alien environment and culture run by a set of rules that require an almost primal instinct to survive.

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