07th Aug2018

‘A Prayer Before Dawn’ Review

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Stars: Joe Cole, Pornchanok Mabklang, Panya Yimmumphai, Nicolas Shake, Billy Moore, Somlock Kamsing, Sakda Niamhom, Sura Sirmalai, Chaloemporn Sawatsuk, Komsan Polsan | Written by Jonathan Hirschbein, Nick Saltrese | Directed by Jean- Stephane Sauvaire

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Jean- Stephane Sauvaire’s A Prayer Before Dawn is a vortex of nihilistic self-sabotage, orchestrated in a prism of oppressive human behaviour. It is fundamentally flawless in its production. Cinematographer David Ungaro utilises a form of a documentarian approach that subjects the audience to an unflinching atmospheric and quite frankly, a torturous horror of psychological and physical deterioration. The story of Billy Moore is primal. It is desolate. It is utterly compelling to even fortify and comprehend a belief that this is non-fiction let alone a true story that Moore survived to tell the tale.

The fractured psyche of broken and corrupted individuals is not a strikingly new or original cinematic concept, most notably and widely acknowledged as best interpreted in Martin Scorsese’s 1976 magnum opus Taxi Driver and as of late revived in Lynne Ramsay’s electrifyingly bleak and compelling You Were Never Really Here. It is a trope simplified and nullified far more in a tale that explores simplistic redemption and formulaic cookie-cutter arcs of self-love and peace. In the case of Scorsese, Ramsay and Sauvaire’s features, the complexities of character morals are far more blinded and unclear.

DeNiro’s Travis Bickle is not a hero. Anyone who suggests otherwise is not truly comprehending the damaging ideology of both a failed system and a man lost in an entanglement of his vicious and doused mind. The same can be said for Joaquin Phoenix’s Joe. A character that is drained of any, if not all rudimental human behaviour and in the wake a blank orifice of humanoid deceit takes the stage, trying to understand the complexities and tribulations of moral conduct in a vast sea of painfully scorched memories of pain. Both films showcase a blurred line of hope and prosperity in the signalling of transformative characters that may have eluded the endless cycle of vicious self-circumstance. Both films interestingly showcase them as corrupted protagonists fighting a systematically flawed antagonist, hypocritically so, walking the antithesis of contradiction, each becoming the enemy they swore to bring down, ultimately undermining their own ideal and purpose in the name of a so-called “greater good”.

Sauvaire’s film doesn’t choose to utilise any antagonist, nor does it utilise the effective moral battle for the fight of redemption, or in the prosperity of sacrficing for another person, nor escaping disturbing surroundings of hellish prison life. It neither victimises Billy with his uncontrollable and deadly addiction to hardcore drugs that he ever so depends on to fight light in a dark tunnel. A Prayer Before Dawn crafts Billy as both his own protagonist and antagonist. He is undeniably his own saviour with his potential in a boxing ability that he abused and corrupted within his own turmoil (which is interestingly never outright stated, or explored) yet at the same time his mind self-destructs, cracking the fragments of the little control Moore has on the events that unfold.

It does verge on nihilistic tendencies, showcasing incredibly bleak and extraordinary dark moments, comparable to that of Alan Parker and Oliver Stone’s infamous seminal, albeit controversial 1978 film Midnight Express. The exploration of a human in ultra sadistic confinement, oppressed by the guards as well as the inmates themselves offers a truly brutal outlook on the proceedings, but Billy never successfully succumbs to the deliberating moments of terror. He continues onwards and upwards, in a deformed outlook of the continuation of his life, not necessarily knowing the preferred or orchestrated destination he is headed towards, presumably unknowingly fighting for his unknown purpose, but fighting physically and metaphorically nonetheless. The constant battle of rehabilitation and relapsing is echoed poignantly so throughout, heartbreaking and forcefully so, realistically questioning the dependency or greed Billy desires within narcotics to separate himself from life’s moments of severe brevity. An issue we all face in our own ways, some better than others and Sauvaire’s film excels in not demonising said people, but to explore the underlying addiction and torture that unfolds underneath the surface and doing especially in the films final moments, reinforces that no matter how you perceive Billy and his life, he is human. He is fragile and frail. A constant reminder of the crux of mortality and morality in times of need.

A Prayer Before Dawn is on limited release across the UK now.

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