• Tue. Apr 23rd, 2024

Movie Curiosities

The online diary of an aspiring movie nerd

Good news: Grandmaster John Woo has returned to make his first Hollywood picture in twenty years.
Bad news: The script comes to us by way of Robert Archer Lynn, who hasn’t written anything since 2007 and wrote fuck-all of note before that.

Silent Night is a straightforward revenge story, focused around exec producer Joel Kinnaman. He plays Brian, a humble everyday handyman who lost his young son to a stray bullet in a drive-by gang dustup. In the process of trying to chase down his kid’s killers, Brian gets taken down by a shot to the throat. No idea how that shot missed his spinal column, but we’ll run with it.

Anyway, Brian is now mute and lost in grief for his dead son. He proceeds to spend the next year training and prepping for the one-year anniversary of the attack, when Brian plans to take out every last gang-banger responsible for what happened, even and especially if he dies trying.

Note how I went through that entire plot synopsis without once mentioning Christmas. For all intents and purposes, it’s wholly irrelevant that this takes place on Christmas Eve. The holiday has nothing to do with the plot or themes, the festive iconography is little more than background dressing, it doesn’t make Brian’s grief hurt any more or less, and the movie would’ve played out exactly the same if it had taken place any other time of year. Therefore, according to my own rule of thumb on the subject, this DOES NOT count as a Christmas movie.

The more important gimmick here is that the whole movie is done without spoken dialogue. Though of course there’s a bit of cheating going on. We get some incoherent grunting and screaming, we get chatter over the radio, there’s laughing and crying and even a couple soft instances of “It’s okay.” Most pointedly, Brian and his wife (Saya, played by Catalina Sandino Moreno) communicate exclusively by text over the phone. It’s a bit contrived, but there’s a kind of logic in being sensitive to the fact that Brian can’t communicate by speech, so we’ll let it slide.

More importantly, because everything has to be conveyed without dialogue, every other aspect of filmmaking has to be that much stronger. The sound design has to emphasize every last sound effect. The music (from master composer Marco Beltrami) has to be that much more expressive. The camerawork and editing have to be perfectly on point. The actors have to step up their game in terms of body language and facial expression.

I’m happy to report that everyone stepped up to the challenge with aplomb. It’s tough to single out any one person in the cast and crew for making the conceit work as well as it does, but I expect Sandino Moreno will go unrecognized as the film’s secret weapon. She’s the true heart of the movie, expertly conveying the classic revenge story theme of how Brian is losing his humanity and everything good about him in his obsessive pursuit of self-destructive vengeance.

But then we get to the big problems.

Because this is a story conveyed without dialogue, it has to be simple enough to be easily and immediately understood by the audience. As a direct result, we’re stuck with the unambiguous two-dimensional evil of… street gangs. Yes, this is a revenge movie about the violent evils of gang-bangers getting rich by selling drugs to kids. That is so ’80s.

Even worse, it’s kinda racist. Seriously, this is 2023 (almost 2024). And I’m watching a movie about a white guy mowing down hordes of tatted-up brown people with no personality, identity, or motivation aside from being paper-thin criminal stereotypes. There are certain optics that need to be taken into consideration here, is what I’m saying.

Another problem is the pacing. This is a 100-minute film, and we don’t get to the action at any reliable pace until the halfway point. Brian doesn’t even start training until half an hour in. And it’s not like the filmmakers needed more time to accommodate for the lack of dialogue, I picked up everything I needed to know in the first fifteen minutes. Time is precious and momentum is everything in an action film, so hell if I know why it took so long to get to the gunplay we paid for.

Granted, the action is up to Woo’s typical standard when it finally happens in the back half. There’s an especially thrilling stairwell sequence presented as a single long-take, that was sweet. There are some good kills in here, but there are just as many moments — particularly in the third act — when the characters make stupid mistakes. And again, the choreography only goes so far when the plot is this thinly predictable and the adversaries are boring to the point of borderline offensive.

I hate to say it, but Silent Night is proof that John Woo is past his prime. The fight scenes are good, but action cinema has come a long way in the past twenty years and there’s nothing here (except maybe that stairwell sequence) up to par with what we’ve come to expect from an action film of this caliber. Even worse, the “no dialogue” gimmick only highlights how the story is simplistic to the point of lazy and outdated.

I want to like Joel Kinnaman, and I want to root for a legend like John Woo, but I can’t sign off on this.

By Curiosity Inc.

I hold a B.S. in Bioinformatics, the only one from Pacific University's Class of '09. I was the stage-hand-in-chief of my high school drama department and I'm a bass drummer for the Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers. I dabble in video games and I'm still pretty good at DDR. My primary hobby is going online for upcoming movie news. I am a movie buff, a movie nerd, whatever you want to call it. Comic books are another hobby, but I'm not talking about Superman or Spider-Man or those books that number in the triple-digits. I'm talking about Watchmen, Preacher, Sandman, etc. Self-contained, dramatic, intellectual stories that couldn't be accomplished in any other medium. I'm a proud son of Oregon, born and raised here. I've been just about everywhere in North and Central America and I love it right here.

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