Silent Night, 2023.
Directed by John Woo.
Starring Joel Kinnaman, Kid Cudi, Harold Torres, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Vinny O’Brien, Yoko Hamamura, Anthony Giulietti, and John Pollack.
A tormented father witnesses his young son die when caught in a gang’s crossfire on Christmas Eve. While recovering from a wound that costs him his voice, he makes vengeance his life’s mission and embarks on a punishing training regimen in order to avenge his son’s death.
At the risk of sounding bleak and uninformed, I had been under the impression that Silent Night director, the legendary John Woo, had been deceased for some time now. Little did I know he has quietly been pumping out more action movies here and there, but if this film is anything to go by, there is a clear reason why those other movies haven’t made a dent in the collective moviegoing consciousness (the last thing I remember experiencing associated with John Woo was the 2009 video game Stranglehold, an attempt to capture his high-octane, slow motion gun-fu through an interactive medium, something that had already been accomplished multiple times over in the infinitely superior Max Payne series, which someone should have convinced him to helm the cinematic adaptation of, but that’s another conversation entirely) and that his last film was released in 2017.
In what feels like a story copy-and-pasted from the outrageously clever and touching Face/Off, Silent Night involves a young boy murdered by a stray bullet on Christmas Eve, and unintentionally hilariously so considering John Woo has misguidedly decided that the villains of this piece be the most stereotypical Hispanic gangsters imaginable, heavily tattooed and shooting at one another during car chases across white suburbia. For further emphasis on how ridiculous this all is, the leader of the gang has lazily been named Playa (Harold Torres) and has about as much dialogue as the voiceless protagonist Brian (Joel Kinnaman, a solid choice if all you need is a physical performance from someone who doesn’t have to deliver any dialogue.)
Wearing a bloodied Christmas sweater and chasing down those responsible with bloodlust in his eyes, Brian finds himself outmatched and fatally wounded by a bullet to the throat. He is immediately taken to surgery for an operation and nursed back to health, but unable to vocalize anything. At home, he tries screaming while looking into the mirror, with the admittedly excellent sound design capturing nothing but wheezing. Meanwhile, Brian’s wife, Saya (Catalina Sandino Moreno), is both grieving and struggling to support her husband or maintain an emotional connection. More concerning is that Brian has decided to spend all of his time working out and training himself with blades and firearms, furthering their disconnect. Unsurprisingly, she leaves him roughly halfway through the following year.
For those raising an eyebrow at that sentence, yes, Silent Night decides to take what would usually be a five-minute training montage, extending and bloating it to nearly half of the 104-minute running time, mistaking this as a choice to fill the film with emotion and heart. The plan is a stunningly stupid one: get revenge on the following year’s Christmas Eve (what would Brian have done if the leader got arrested or killed before them?) Brian also consistently daydreams about his son in scenes that, once again, feel reminiscent of Face/Off but come across as hokey. Face/Off certainly had its fair share of exaggerated and cloying melodrama, but it felt earned and sincere. This film feels half-baked and lazy.
John Woo is also well-versed in giving his action heroes disabilities of sorts, ranging from new faces to being blind and more, but the degree to which he does nothing of interest with the voiceless Brian and his near-wordless experience here is startling. At one point, I wondered if this film was some subversive exercise in showing how easy it is for an average civilian to not only let revenge consume the mind but become an efficient killer and easily acquire the means to do so. It’s not; the final 30 minutes are dedicated to some admittedly impressive action sequences taking advantage of practical effects and stunts, but chaos and carnage that hardly reaches the heights of those most revered works.
Nonetheless, Silent Night is brutal and visceral, reminding us that John Woo can still stage one hell of an action set piece. Unfortunately, there isn’t anything here narratively to make it worthwhile. Worse off, the editing here is a jumbled mess giving the impression that someone slapped these scenes together in 20 minutes when they had all the footage, with zero consideration of how any of it flowed or transitioned. Kid Cudi also plays a detective in a pointless role.
30 minutes of a master doing what he does best, albeit in lesser quality with Silent Night, does not make a film. It’s painful to say, but maybe John Woo should return to semi-retirement. This is what Quentin Tarantino is talking about when the greats diminish their body of work by releasing subpar creations in their twilight years.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com