Action master John Woo is back for a depresh fest that's so dour it'll likely leave you sour.
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John Woo’s “Silent Night” (now in theaters) is the fifth movie to rock this title in the past decade or so. There was the 2012 “Silent Night, Deadly Night” remake directed by my Facebook friend Steven C. Miller. There was a 2021 Matthew Vaughn-produced darkly comedic horror offering (my review here). There’s also a 2017 Polish Christmas movie and a 2020 British gangster picture – neither of which I’ve seen.
Woo was definitely one of my guys as a teenager in the 1990s alongside other writers and directors such as Peter Jackson, Sam Raimi, Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Williamson. I dug Woo’s Hong Kong output (“The Killer,” “Hard Boiled”) and I enjoyed the work he did upon arriving in the States … to a point. His American stuff started getting stale with 2001’s “Windtalkers” and downright putrid with 2003’s “Paycheck.” After these two movies’ commercial and critical failure, Woo returned to Hong Kong where he made the epic (in length as opposed to scope) two-parter “Red Cliff” and a so-so Netflix flick entitled “Manhunt.”
“Silent Night” marks the 77-year-old auteur’s return to North American moviemaking. It filmed in Mexico City doubling for Texas and is a high concept project mostly devoid of dialogue.
Joel Kinnaman stars as Brian Godluck, an electrician living an idyllic life with his wife Saya (Catalina Sandino Moreno) and son Taylor (Anthony Giulietti). The Godlucks’ luck takes a turn for the tragic when two warring vehicles drive past their house one fateful Christmas Eve. Taylor gets struck down in a hail of gunfire prompting Brian (sporting a cheesy, reindeer-adorned Christmas sweater and a jingle bell necklace) to give chase on foot. What’s he get for his troubles? A bullet in the throat rendering him voiceless from the gun of a gangster named Playa (Harold Torres of Liam Neeson’s 2022 actioneer “Memory”).
Police in the form of Det. Dennis Vassel (rapper Kid Cudi credited as Scott Mescudi) are unable to bring Playa to justice. Brian crawls into the bottle after being released from the hospital, but soon sets his sights on revenge. He buys and tricks out a Ford Mustang, does pull-ups and kettle bell exercises in his garage, practices knife fighting, buys a duffel bag full of guns and logs significant range time. What he doesn’t do is communicate with Saya, which leads her to the door.
The best reason to check out “Silent Night” is Kinnaman’s performance. His facial expressions and body language speak volumes when his character says nothing at all. The gimmick allows Kinnaman to do some solid acting, but it’s still very much a gimmick. At least a third of the movie’s runtime is dedicated to training and gear-up montages, which grows boring and tiresome at a certain point … and this is coming from someone who loves this stuff in smaller doses in action movies of the 1980s and 1990s.
Woo makes nods to his filmography (a bird turns up on the windowsill of Brian’s hospital room, characters finally brandish two pistols during the picture’s conclusion), but a lot of it’s too CG and lacks the squibby squishiness of Woo’s best works. So many movies and moviemakers have riffed on Woo’s oeuvre (I’m thinking specifically of “The Raid” and “John Wick” flicks), but the students have exceeded the master.
Woo is still one of my guys. I’m glad he’s not only back to making movies, but is back to making them in North America. All of this said, “Silent Night” is a depresh fest that’s so dour it’ll likely leave you sour.