A Prayer Before Dawn

(Cert 18, 116 mins)****

BRITISH boxer Billy Moore (Joe Cole) is handed a three-year prison sentence for possession of drugs while he is on holiday in Thailand.

His punishment consigns him to two of Thailand's notorious prisons - Chiang Mai and Klong Prem - where all of Billy's fighting skills cannot protect him from the threat of night-time stabbings and brutal sexual assaults perpetrated by heavily tattooed inmates.

As he tries to stay alive in this overcrowded hellhole, where prisoners salve their pain with crystal meth, Billy realises that the men who fight in Muay Thai boxing tournaments are granted special privileges by the governor.

Consequently, Billy puts himself forward for the bouts and sparks up a fiery romance with transgender inmate Fame (Pornachanok Mabklang), who hands out cigarettes each week.

If Billy can emerge victorious inside the ring, he might reclaim his self-worth and earn his freedom.

Based on Moore's memoir of the same title, A Prayer Before Dawn is a deeply distressing portrait of crime, punishment and sweat-drenched machismo, which charts one man's hellish journey through the Thai prison system.

Jean-Stephane Sauvaire's film is blessed with a fearless lead performance from London-born actor Cole, who puts himself through the physical and emotional wringer in distressing scenes of abuse and intimidation.

Shot in a Thai prison with a cast of real inmates, A Prayer Before Dawn is a horribly immersive, choking experience stained with fear and menace.

The real Billy Moore appears briefly for a sombre closing scene, which is a glancing blow compared to the flurry of knockout punches of earlier scenes.

Book Club

(Cert 12, 102 mins)***

Best friends Diane (Diane Keaton), Vivian (Jane Fonda), Sharon (Candice Bergen) and Carol (Mary Steenburgen) merrily reunite each month over glasses of chilled white wine to discuss a book chosen by one member of the coterie.

Hotel manager Vivian elects to introduce her shocked pals to Christian Grey's notorious Red Room in E. L. James's erotic thriller Fifty Shades Of Grey.

As agreed, the women devour the pages of the chosen tome and the lurid descriptions of spanking and bondage spark lustful thoughts.

Doting wife Carol seeks new ways to reinvigorate her marriage to husband Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) while Sharon is persuaded to sign up to an internet dating site and matches with accountant George (Richard Dreyfuss).

Vivian has a chance encounter with old flame Arthur (Don Johnson) and recently widowed Diane is swept off her feet by airline captain Mitchell (Andy Garcia).

Book Club is a frothy romantic comedy, which feels tired and outdated.

In stark contrast, the leading ladies are luminous and they enliven a plodding script and inject vim into scenes of sisterly solidarity that might otherwise become clogged with emotional syrup.

Fonda savours every slink of her man-eater and Bergen can make the dullest one-liner sing.

Bill Holderman's film, which is co-written by Erin Simms, doesn't tarry on matters of likelihood or logic.

Not when contrivances and coincidences can be piled one atop another to provide the central quartet with predictable subplots that ensure they all reach the end credits with willing suitors and a sheen of contentment.

Also released


(10 episodes, streaming and available to download from September 21 exclusively on Netflix, Comedy/Thriller)

OSCAR winner Emma Stone and Jonah Hill headline a fantastical dark comedy created by Patrick Somerville and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, based on an acclaimed Norwegian television series of the same title.

Annie Landsberg (Emma Stone) is desperate to repair broken relationships with her mother and sister but isn't sure how to bridge the emotional divide.

New York industrialist's son Owen Milgrim (Jonah Hill) is diagnosed with schizophrenia but disputes the medical experts' conclusions.

These two misfits are drawn to the same three-day drug trial at Neberdine Pharmaceutical and Biotech run by Dr. James K. Mantleray (Justin Theroux).

He boldly claims to have invented a pill that can heal the human mind without any side effects.

Annie, Owen and eight other volunteers agree to take part in the trial under 24-hour surveillance and write their names in medical history.

Unforeseen complications plunge the terrified participants into a living nightmare.

Damon Smith