A Prayer Before Dawn (R)
Adapted by Jonathan Hirschbein and Nick Saltrese from Moore’s 2014 memoir, this is a film where men communicate in grunts, slaps and head locks, which Sauvaire (Johnny Mad Dog) and cinematographer David Ungaro shoot in long takes and unrelenting close-ups. Billy’s cellmates, tattooed from head to toe, are played by ex-cons, and since Sauvaire filmed in a recently abandoned Bangkok prison, A Prayer Before Dawn feels scarily authentic; it may be too much for some. But there are moments of grace amid the setting’s despair. Billy joins the prison boxing club, and gradually comes to know the inmates, who embrace him as one of their own. A scene where they tattoo his back is filmed as a reverent laying on of the hands — the inverse of all the violence that came before. And the year seems unlikely to offer acting as exquisite as the small moment when the warden hands Billy unexpected letters from his family. Surprised, Billy freezes, and yet somehow, in that non-movement of his body, Cole suggests the life-renewing soul-shock Billy is experiencing. It’s a great performance in a film that’s likely to become a classic of its kind.