Billy Moore is a British citizen who was caught with heroin while in Thailand and sent to jail, to later emerge a boxing champion. A white male who gets thrown in jail while sojourning in a completely foreign country and walks out of there a boxing champ makes for the sort of vivid, by-the-bootstraps survival story that movie producers love. As it were, “A Prayer Before Dawn” was adapted from a book that Moore wrote about his harrowing experience. In interviews, Moore has said, “I decided to write it when I was in the prison in Bangkok. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing; murder, rape, corruption and the inhumane degradation. You couldn’t even invent or conjure up the things I saw and I just felt it was important to write my experiences down on notes that soon developed into a book.”
After the book came out producer Rita Dagher (Fahrenheit 9/11) brought a copy of it to Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire, a director known in Cannes for 2008’s “Johnny Mad Dog,” a documentary-like fiction about the child-soldiers of Africa. The actor Joe Cole (“Peaky Blinders,” “The Green Room”) was cast in the role of Moore and the project got underway, with shooting taking place on location in Thailand in an abandoned jail.
The film is told from Moore’s viewpoint, Sauvaire taking great pains to translate the drugged-up chaos inside Moore’s head to the screen in order to immerse the viewer fully into the experience. He used a shoulder-rigged HD camera, leaving the camera rolling, sometimes for up to ten minutes, to attempt to translate the actor’s performance into intense feats of surviving the punishing chaos of life in a Thai jail for the big screen. Sauvaire pushes the realism of his films so far as to make them risky for his actors. It comes with the territory but Cole deserves major props for his work portraying Moore. The resulting film is a testament to the extreme powers of survival of Billy Moore and helps cement Sauvaire’s reputation as a peril-loving, intrepid filmmaker willing to bring us some of the hardest human stories from faraway places.