Directed by: John Woo
Written by: Robert Archer Lynn
Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Scott Mescudi, Harold Torres, Catalina Sandino Moreno
Released: December 7, 2023
Grade: B-

Silent Night

One of my favourite animated features of the past decade of the past decade was The Shaun the Sheep Movie.  It had zero dialogue and yet the cute animals were able to convey emotion and tell a story in the same manner as actors from the silent-film era.  It was a cool, creative device which reminded us of the adage – “a picture is worth a thousand words.”  It also won points for being a movie accessible to all – regardless of what language they spoke (no conversations means no subtitles).

77-year-old action director John Woo made a name for himself in Hollywood in the late 1990s with some big blockbusters (Broken Arrow, Face/Off) but, having made several films in his native China over the last two decades, he’s returned to North America for a new project.  The script from Robert Archer Lynn (Adrenaline) would have been a curious read given this too features no dialogue!  It’s a fresh spin on what is usually a formulaic genre.

So how do they do it?  Silent Night is centred on an ordinary American guy, Brian (Kinnaman), who has endured the worst of all tragedies.  While on the front lawn playing with his wife (Moreno) and 7-year-old son on Christmas Eve, two cars drove down the street shooting recklessly at each other as part of a rival gang war. The son was killed by a stray bullet and, while chasing the perpetrators across neighbouring streets, Brian too was seriously wounded.  A bullet to the neck has left him unable to speak ever again.

In the same vein as Bob Odenkirk’s character in 2021’s Nobody, Brian transforms from a regular parent into a vicious vigilante.  He spends months working on his fitness, learning how to use weapons, and enhancing his driving skills.  Given a disappointing lack of police assistance, he also takes it upon himself to gather intel on the city’s dangerous gang leaders.  It all leads to a serious of intense battles where Brian extracts the most painful revenge possible on those who took his son’s life.

While I applaud the concept, the novelty wears thin early.  Brian can’t speak himself but the lack of chatter from others, even in the flashback sequences, comes across as contrived.  The biggest offender is Oscar nominee Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace) who, as Brian’s grieving wife, comes across as an empty character because of her own unexplained silence.  The same applies to the gang members who you’d think wouldn’t mind a word or two amongst themselves.

The stage-setting opening act is sluggish and star Swedish Joel Kinnaman (RoboCop) runs out of different facial expressions but once the action gets going, Silent Night isn’t too bad.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise given Woo’s experience.  The actors and stunt guys, in collaboration with cinematographer Sharone Meir (Whiplash) and Oscar winning editor Zach Staenberg (The Matrix), create interesting fights which aren’t overegged.  Kinnaman does a solid job playing someone putting up a brave defence while also being out of the depth.

Would Silent Night have been better with less silence?  I think the answer to that question is yes.