The Austin Chronicle

Silent Night

Rated R, 103 min. Directed by John Woo. Starring Joel Kinnaman, Scott "Kid Cudi" Mescudi, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Harold Torres.

REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., Dec. 1, 2023

Say that your son is murdered and a drug dealer shoots you in the throat, rendering you unable to talk. Would you perhaps go to therapy and seek out a healing path with your partner? Or would you spend the better part of a year spending your seemingly unlimited resources building a bulletproof Mustang and teaching yourself how to stab people on YouTube?

If you’re Joel Kinnaman’s character in Silent Night, there’s never really a choice. You go the full Charles Bronson.

Silent Night is a revenge film with a gimmick: Because Kinnaman’s character cannot talk, the movie is devoid of dialogue. This creates a level of cinematic self-consciousness often found in first-person or one-take features. We can feel the concept wear thin as actors silently emote at each other, but Hard Boiled director John Woo – back in America to deliver his signature brand of gun violence for the first time in two decades – squeezes every last drop of value from this setup. His silent dance of grief between two broken parents is an impressive piece of stagecraft and just as self-assured in its ridiculousness as any number of hallway gunfights.

And that’s a bit of a twist, because the actual violence in Silent Night leaves much to be desired. There are certainly moments where Woo’s signature stylings shine forth (no filmmaker on Earth gets as much mileage out of a shotgun as him) but modern audiences need a bit more variety from their gunfights in the wake of four John Wick movies. The most stylish moment of mayhem involves Kinnaman’s character shooting his way through a paper target and toward the camera. That’s the level of silliness we signed up for, but the self-seriousness that sells the lack of dialogue also undercuts the conventional violence at every turn.

There’s something fitting about the marketing for Silent Night promoting the film as much as "a John Woo movie" as it is “from the producer of John Wick” (that producer being Erica Lee, one of five here). Over the last decade, stuntmen have taken over the action industry, and the visual tropes they employ – straight down to that of the overly wounded gunfighter – owe much to Woo’s work in both Hollywood and Hong Kong. Silent Night looks just a little too much like every other action movie to serve as a celebration of action auteurism. John Woo did his job a little too well, and now Woo himself must suffer for it.

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