A Prayer Before Dawn, screenplay by Nick Saltrese
Although this motion picture is listed as action, biography and drama, one might surely think that the horror category could be added, given the terrifying hard to believe scenes in this film.
It makes one wonder- is Billy Moore exaggerating in his account about what happened in Thailand?
Associated with paradisiacal beaches, this country is a paradox indeed, for a military junta rules it, if somebody criticizes the monarchy – no matter how mildly – the risk of a long prison sentence is very high, considering the preposterous, draconic lese majeste laws in effect there.
Nevertheless, this is not about the monarchy, the politics of Thailand, albeit the rulers should do something about the terror reigning in their abominable prisons, but about the ordeal, horror endured by the hero, the boxer Billy Moore, who has a short presence on screen at the end of the film.
In South East Asia, drug related offences are very harshly punished – and not just there, in a number of Arab countries it equals hanging or beheading – and we can think of the Philippine president, the mad Duterte, who boasts about killing suspects of drug associated offences – suspects for he is no judge and even if he were, a trial is needed before sentencing, never mind executing a man or woman.
A Prayer before Dawn reminds one of the madness, the horror and terror from Midnight Express, where another westerner suffers horrendous, abhorrent abuses in a Turkish jail – by the way, that country is veering towards dictatorship and more torture of journalists, opponents, with the ascent of the New Age Sultan, Erdogan.
Ending the reference to previous features, there is Return to Paradise to consider, where a young man convicted for possession of some mild drugs – for his own consumption actually – is sentenced to death – he is played by Joaquin Phoenix and they try to save him by bringing Back to Eden a friend who could share in the blame and eventually bring the convicted prisoner from the death’s door.
Billy Moore has to sleep together with scores of people in the same, not that large room, in a jail that cannot be worse than hell itself, prisoners do not even have the space to rest at centimeters from other inmates, and they have arms and legs crossing the neighbor.
As soon as a new inmate is brought to the big room, the leader of the gang that dominates the scene faces him, then they start kicking the new arrival, which is soon attacked and invited to surrender to the sexual attacks of the other prisoners, who take turns and rape the vulnerable…or perhaps we should say everyone.
Except the hero is a very determined, gritty, resilient, strong – physically and mentally , brave, perseverant young man who does not give in, he resists the attacks of the gang, who resort to holding him and making him watch while they force themselves upon another man.
This victim is dead in the morning, apparently he has hanged himself, after rascals, violent, tattooed prisoners raped him one meter away from Billy, who was immobilized by these brutes, monsters with a human face – although given the inscriptions that covered their face, skull, sometimes they no longer look like mere mortals, more like demons.
There is a chance to fight as a boxer, but it is an overwhelming, surreal, extremely hard job, training for what is probably called Thai boxing, using fists with legs and special blows that the hero has to learn in training.
The English boxer has no money to pay guards, bribe other officials, or even get cigarettes or anything he might need inside – and all the basic necessities are simply absent inside, if one has no money – because he says he has no family.
He becomes friendly with someone from outside prison, who visits regularly, whose sexual identity is hard to establish – although it might have been stated in the film, maybe he or she is transsexual? – and who supports Billy and gives him some packs of cigarettes that he uses for bets.
Two poor fish fight in a bowl, Betta Splendens is the name of the species, wherein the male fights another male just as soon as he sees him, displaying wonderful tail and fins and in the Thai jail they place on money on one or the other, with Billy guessing the winner, but having his gains denied.
The hero has to fight quite a few prisoners and some guards, resulting in solitary confinement, brutal punishments, cuts, blackouts and terrible pains, but after the fish fight, he does get his wins eventually.
A Prayer for Dawn seems to be similar with the many boxing films, from Rocky to Raging Bull, but the savagery, extreme brutality seems to be taken to a completely different level in this film.