Directed by: John Woo
Premise: A father (Joel Kinnaman) loses his son on Christmas to a stray bullet from a gang shootout. A year later he takes revenge.
What Works: Silent Night was directed by John Woo who has worked in Hong Kong and Hollywood cinema and created memorable action movies of the 1990s and early 2000s such as Hard Target, Face/Off, and Mission: Impossible II. Woo has a kinetic and muscular visual style and the influence of his work is evident in contemporary action films such as the John Wick series. Silent Night feels like a throwback to 1990s action cinema and it has the visceral thrills and striking images that defined Woo’s films. Much like the central character, Silent Night is sleek and focused. Killing is the only thing the character or the movie are interested in and the film has vicious energy. The novelty of Silent Night is its lack of dialogue. In the opening sequence the main character is shot in the throat and loses his ability to speak. No one else has meaningful dialogue either. The characters occasionally communicate via text message (which admittedly feels like a cheat) but everything in Silent Night is conveyed visually. Joel Kinnaman is quite good in this. He has the physicality for the action scenes and he does that well but the film is informed by an overarching sense of grief and rage which Kinnaman conveys throughout his performance especially in his face and posture. That pathos appeal gives Silent Night an emotional charge.
What Doesn’t: The father’s grief gives Silent Night a righteous rage but there’s not much else going on in the film. Kinnaman’s character lost his son to a stray bullet and he sets out to kill those responsible. There’s nothing more to it than that. Unlike the original Death Wish, which dealt with similar ideas with some complexity and nuance, nothing is won, lost, or affirmed in Silent Night.The picture has nothing to say except guns-go-bang. A lot of this movie is dumb and random. Action films like this tend to be absurd but they must make internal sense. Silent Night doesn’t. Kinnaman’s character is shot through the throat but a few months later the only evidence of that is a blemish on his neck. Characters show up in places for no reason. The father tips off the police to the location and identity of the gang members just before going on his revenge spree. The police send a group of officers, not a SWAT team, into the criminals’ lair without any plans or intelligence or even body armor.
Bottom Line: Silent Night is a standard shoot-’em-up movie. The filmmakers have no illusions about what they’re doing and Silent Night delivers exactly what’s promised. It’s also shallow and dumb and doesn’t even try to innovate.
Episode: #977 (December 17, 2023)