It’s hard to do better than BLOOD IN, BLOOD OUT and BRONSON for me, in terms of prison flicks, but A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN might close the trifecta. Like BRONSON, A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN is a biopic about a British prisoner. Like BLOOD IN, BLOOD OUT, it deals with multiple cultures in the clink. Unlike either, it plays a lot like a silent film. Since Billy Moore ended up in a Thai prison for drugs, he doesn’t understand pretty much anything anyone says. What he doesn’t understand and isn’t important doesn’t get translated, so there are long stretches of people talking and we’re left to figure out what’s happening. It’s exciting as a viewer because it places an enormous amount of trust on us instead of having things overexplained with a bad loop job because a test audience was too busy checking their phone during a screening. The quasi-silent film experience creates a reality in a movie already dripping in it because A) it’s an adaptation of Moore’s autobiography, B) it takes place in a real prison, and C) some of the cast are real prisoners. None of it feels forced, unlike Adrian Brody as a geek in SPLICE, or done for bragging rights, either. The writers, Jonathan Hirschbein and Nick Saltrese, and the director, Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire, did a fantastic job of shaping that world. Joe Cole did a fantastic job of living in it.
Once upon a time, Charlie Hunnam was gonna play Moore. He can act, but he would’ve been too well-known for the character. One of the great things about Joe Cole is that he can act and is established enough to make the money people happy, but (and I mean this in the best way) he’s not so high-profile that you’re not thinking of his other roles while he’s… being forced to watch a man get gang-raped while a shiv’s pointed at his eye, for instance. You’re in that fucked up moment with Joe Cole as Billy Moore because Cole’s a blank slate. Even though the character’s a boxer, you’re not expecting him to fight his way out of that situation because Cole doesn’t have any baggage. So we go through his journey of confusion, depression, desperation, and addiction with a stronger connection to those emotions. While he tries to survive the impossible circumstance of being a foreigner in a Thai prison, as he falls in love with a trans captive from another part of the prison, as he trains to fight for the prison’s boxing team, and as he bumps into another impossible circumstance: escaping a hospital to freedom by simply walking out the front door. That was mindblowing because he gets pretty far, decides to go back, and no one knows that he left. He eventually gets his happy ending, or close to one, because his father visits him and is played by the real Billy Moore.
Yeah, it closes the trifecta.