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Silent Night

Updated: Dec 22, 2023

Action Director John Woo has delivered a holiday gift to theaters today, SILENT NIGHT, his first American film in 20 years! Is it worth unwrapping?

Joel Kinnaman (fantastic in Apple TV+'s "For All Mankind" series) stars as a father in torment.

As the film opens, he's running toward the camera in an ugly Christmas sweater, a jingle bell hanging around his neck, bouncing around in traditional John Woo slow-motion glory. We get glimpses of him covered in blood.

He's chasing two vehicles whose occupants are members of rival gangs. They hang out the windows of their cars, unleashing hundreds of rounds at each other with massive weapons.

One of those rounds has taken his nine year old son, playing innocently on his new bike on Christmas morning.

We only know this father by his last name, Godlock.

He faces off against the two cars and is gunned down with a bullet through the throat by a vicious gang-leader who's branded with dark tattooed slashes across the entire right side of his face.

Unable to speak, with his wife Saya (Catalina Sandino Moreno) at his side, Godlock slowly, painfully and hesitantly crawls back to life. The moments in which he returns to their house, with all the remnants of that Christmas morning still in place, are almost unbearable. Kinnaman and Moreno are both very good in these scenes, but they're difficult to sit through. As someone who has lost a child, the moments of heartbreaking loss are almost too well executed.

Godlock sinks into an alcoholic stupor, until the day his front porch memories snap him viciously toward vengeance. He circles the following Christmas Eve on his calendar and writes "KILL THEM ALL" on the day.

Woo kicks everything up a notch. Godlock heads to the police station to meet the Detective that came to his bedside, Detective Vassell, played by rapper/actor Kid Cudi.

But the meeting at the police station isn't what you think it's going to be.

Woo stages the entire, hour and 45 minute film almost dialogue free. Police radios and breathless grunts of violence represent most of the voices captured. Like Eastwood's Man With No Name, Godlock lets his weapons do the talking.

Marco Beltrami's music score is almost like a silent movie score. It's ever present, punching up the action scenes and pulling on your heartstrings at the right moments. Beltrami (World War Z, Knowing, Plane) creates an enormous amount of music and it's damn good.

Woo takes his time, bordering on too much time really, moving Godlock slowly through his grief and into what seems like a 30-minute long Rocky training montage as he bulks up, learns to shoot, buys the appropriate car for an avenging angel and starts observing the gang all the way up the ladder until he finds the man who stood over him that Christmas morning and pulled the trigger.

Fortunately, Kinnaman is up to the task. His anger is palpable, his transformation from angry, terrified father to killing machine carries 100X the weight that Charles Bronson ever did in his 'Death Wish" series, which this clearly resembles.

The last forty minutes shows us that the 67 year old Woo can still serve up his brand of explosive action scenes in grand style. Like George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), Woo never blinks as Godlock mows down gangbangers by the dozens, moving up the ladder toward his prey.

Miller's latest Mad Max films managed to break new ground in film-making while they paid homage to the original 80's films in the series. I'd be hard pressed to find tangible evidence of Woo taking things to the next level here and that does occasionally feel like a let down.

Kinnaman's long hand-to-hand battle up the boss's staircase is visually incredible and thrilling, but is it better than Daniel Craig's battle up the stairs, one of the few highlights of the second half of "No Time To Die"? No.

Godlock's car stunts as he wields his Mustang like a four legged variety, flying in between towers and around other cars is exciting, but pales next to any car chase in "John Wick 4".

What you're left with is a perfectly good John Woo action film. Is that enough? I was so thankful there weren't a thousand slow motion doves flying around that I was able to sit back and enjoy this for what it is, a brutally violent, graphic & bloody action flick, anchored by the real emotional father's loss at its core.

Woo hasn't lost any of the excess flourishes that tend to grow tiresome after awhile, but after two decades, they didn't bother me at all. I was clearly ready for his unmistakable style, which SILENT NIGHT delivers in a massive Christmas sack loaded with ammo.

Nothing is calm, Nothing is bright, but this SILENT NIGHT gets an appropriately unholy blood covered B, leaving you exhausted in its wake.

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