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Release Date: 12/01/23 [Cinemas]
Genre: Action.

Studio: Lionsgate.

"A grieving father enacts his long-awaited revenge against a ruthless gang on Christmas Eve." 


Christmas has come early. And it’s not because of the Cyber Week deals, the tree lighting at Rockefeller Center, or even because you can hear Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” everywhere you go. It’s because legendary director John Woo has released a brand new film, AND because it’s a pretty damn good one. 


The film is called Silent Night. Not only is it a refreshing return to the thriller genre that he redefined. As the title implies, it’s a Christmas movie. But it’s not a Christmas movie the same way Die Hard is. Where the Bruce Willis film has been deemed a holiday classic for its setting, this film actually earns its title for a few reasons. None more important than the way its protagonist delivers the gift of death to each and every person he believes is responsible for his son’s murder.


The film opens with a man running while sporting a Christmas sweater drenched in blood. No stranger to subtlety, with this simple and absurd piece of imagery, Woo tells the audience everything they already need to know about where this movie is headed. The man, played by Joel Kinnaman, seems to be running aimlessly. However, after a few moments it’s revealed that he’s chasing two cars exchanging gunfire. At first glance you would think that Kinnaman’s character is some sort of undercover cop caught in the crossfire, especially with the veracity in which he’s chasing the cars unarmed. It isn’t until he finally catches up with the last car standing and confronts the final gun-toting passenger that you realize he’s just an ordinary man consumed with anger. 


That confrontation ends with Kinnaman’s character being shot in the neck, bleeding out and left to die. Although he is ultimately saved, he’s left without the ability to use his vocal cords. He can’t talk or even scream, which is where the title’s secondary meaning comes into play. After it’s revealed that the character’s son was killed by stray gunfire from the two cars he was chasing, it becomes immediately clear just how much he’s really lost. Even if he can put into words how much pain he’s in, he would literally never be able to say them. This layered loss puts him in a bit of rut. Fed up with the lack of accountability and justice for the death of his son though, he eventually decides that he has to take the law into his own hands. In the process he becomes living proof that actions do speak louder than words.


Now, not only is Kinnaman’s character completely mute throughout the film’s hour and 44 minute runtime, the entire film features minimal dialogue. With the exception of a few audio and video clips from the radio or television, this is a contemporary silent film. While the choice to exclude dialogue might be viewed as a risk for a modern blockbuster, opting to exclude it in this particular story only amplifies Woo’s action setpieces. Woo, who has always been big on spectacle, is forced into showing us even more. That doesn’t necessarily mean more of a focus on the violence either. For example, in the third act of the film, we see Kinnaman’s character caught in the middle of a gunfight with a cop. While he wants to eliminate all of the shooters, he also wants to save the cop. Through a few close-ups of Kinnaman’s face, we see him make that choice. That proves to be more effective than any bit of dialogue could have ever been. 


To make a silent film nowadays is no doubt an incredible feat, considering how easy it is to get tempted by all the other cooler and more elaborate pieces of technology creators have at their disposal. But the fact that Woo consciously chose to do so, and the way he does it so effortlessly, feels like a true marvel.


Marco Beltrami’s score should not go unnoticed either, as it fills up a large chunk of the film’s silence while setting the tone. Its use and effectiveness, alongside the brilliant sound design, is honestly comparable to the way that subtitles casually make it easier for audiences to understand what’s happening in any foreign language film. Here, however, he’s inviting us to always feel what Kinnaman’s character feels regardless of its anger, sadness, or just the stakes.  


Joel Kinnaman delivers both his most emotional and physical performance to date. If his comedic performance in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad didn’t already prove that the man is one of most versatile actors in Hollywood, surely this film will. Prior to the events of the film, his character is not a killer. In fact, through extensive flashbacks we come to realize that he was a very gentle giant. The stark contrast with who he was and who he becomes is not only a testament to Kinnaman’s range but a really great barometer for the audience to understand how truly broken he is.


As great as the movie is, it does have its drawbacks. The biggest is probably the film’s timeline. Kinnaman’s character vows to exact revenge on the street gang responsible for his son’s death exactly one year from the day it happened: Christmas Eve. When he decides this, he has about 10 months to plan. 10 minutes and one montage later however, it’s already December. Where most revenge films take their time building up to that final confrontation, this one rushes a bit. The entire second half of the film takes place on the night of our main character’s killing spree! While, on one hand, it is an hour of Woo’s glorious action, on the other hand you can’t help but feel like the film is a bit uneven.


Additionally, in the third act, there are some characters that manage to traverse space and time in ways that feel impossible. For example, towards the end, there’s one henchman who appears to die on a totally opposite side of the town. Right before Kinnaman is about to take on the main antagonist, however, this henchman reappears to get his own revenge. Once again, the action is great, but the execution is just flawed. That’s not to say the entire film is flawed though.


Silent Night may not be perfect, but it’s the perfect blend of the silent, holiday and revenge thriller genres. As ambitious as it might sound, with Woo at the helm, at the very least it’s entertaining. But longtime fans are sure to be left speechless.


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