Silent Night - Film Review

Silent Night - Film Review


Posted 2023-12-05 by Kitty Goodallfollow
Vengeance is on the menu this Christmas

It’s a John Woo film, so you know you’re going to get some amazing gunplay

Fans of action film director John Woo will be delighted to learn that his latest film, Silent Night, will be released in cinemas across Australia on December 7th. If you’ve never heard of John Woo, but you like action films centring around revenge and the need to seek justice, you’ll like this movie.

Silent Night is a graphic action noir that follows a troubled father, Brian (Joel Kinnaman) who watches his young son die on Christmas Eve after being caught in the crossfire of a gang shootout. Brian pursues the gang and is severely injured before being transported to the hospital to be rehabilitated. While he is recuperating from a wound that has caused him to lose his voice, he declines into alcoholism and depression, which pushes his grieving wife Saya (Catalina Sandino Moreno) away. Left alone, his wife gone, and child murdered, Brian finds the motivation he needs to quit drinking and keep living: vengeance.

Brian and Saya are broken after their son is a victim of manslaughter

Brian spends the next year bodybuilding, familiarising himself with lethal weaponry, and practising self-defence. He attempts to see Detective Dennis Vassel (Scott Mescudi), who has offered to help him with his son's case. While waiting in the detective’s office, Brian takes advantage of the chance to acquire information on the gang, leaving before Vassel arrives. Brian initiates reconnaissance on the gang using information gleaned at the detective’s office, collecting evidence that could aid in their capture.

The script by Robert Archer Lynn really does follow that film studies rule of ‘show don’t tell’. True to its name, Silent Night is very sparing with its dialogue. The ‘strong, silent hero’ trope has been taken to the extreme in this movie. But Brian isn’t the only silent one. There is little to no on-screen dialogue spoken at all, which adds to the mood and tension in the film. You hear a little radio chatter, and in one scene Saya softly comforts Brian, but otherwise, this is a dialogue-free film.

Brian silently vows he will avenge his son’s death at all costs

Director John Woo describes it as, “Surprise, surprise, and surprise. The script is full of surprises so that’s one of the biggest reasons I took it. We had 3 or 4 people working on the script for the preparation. I really liked and enjoyed the script because I like challenges.

Making a film without dialogue is more difficult,” Woo explains, “It’s not an easy job to do. You have to think more than usual. You need to find new ways, new style, and a very unique language to tell the story. Unique visual language to tell the story. The sound, the vision. Using the vision instead of the language. It’s not easy work. It needs a lot of thought”.

Woo is a genuinely influential personality in the action film genre, having pioneered the gun fu genre in Hong Kong action cinema before working on films like Broken Arrow and Face Off in Hollywood. Silent Night’s long and violent action sequences, superb use of slow motion, and wonderful lighting, colour grading, and cinematography are all reminiscent of Woo's previous films. Where this film differs is in its disposition. Silent Night is far more sombre than his previous Hollywood works and lacks the playfulness and comedy one might expect from his movies. The film is heartbreaking, unflinching in its approach to the depth of pain a parent feels at the loss of a child.

Aside from the protagonist's journey of seeking vengeance and the emotional toll it takes on him, his loss, grief and desire for justice, Silent Night also examines other themes. Family and fatherhood, the loss of innocence, drug abuse, gang violence in the US, depression, alcoholism, and the ultimate failure of the police to keep the peace, protect and serve their citizens are all under the microscope too.

Gritty? Check! Noir? Check! Action? Oh you better believe that’s a check!

The male power fantasy is amped up to eleven as well. Brian transforms himself from an average dad into a killing machine. In losing his voice, he seems to lose his civility. He sees his only valid course of action to be extreme violence. As I quipped to my husband while we watched this film, “I don’t suppose many people would want a film about Brian dealing with his grief in a healthy way, like going to counselling and taking art therapy classes.” Because it’s an action film and we want and expect the genre to provide us with sweaty montages of him grunting and getting muscular and learning how to drive fast and use weapons. He’s a tough guy in a tough world ready to make the (you guessed it) tough choices to take revenge on the scum of the streets. If the police won’t do their job, he will do it for them… toughly.

There is a lot to enjoy about this extreme approach to the action genre. Everything is heightened. The hero’s pain, the length and brutality of the fight scenes, the gunplay, it’s all extra dramatic. The bad guys are beastly, the hero is righteous. The flashbacks to happier times are saccharin, honey-coloured, chimerical perfection. The present day is gritty, painful, noir.

Look out bad guys, here comes Brian

Silent Night features excellent casting, costuming, set design, lighting, colour grading, cinematography, and editing. Big thumbs up to the sound design – those foley artists must have been working overtime! The lack of dialogue takes a little getting used to and won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. No snappy one-liners to ease the tension when a character pulls the trigger in this film. If you’re keen on all action, less chat, then you’ll be hooked on Silent Night from the captivating opening sequence. It might even overtake some people’s favourite Christmas movie, Die Hard, to become their new top festive season pick.

Silent Night is in cinemas around Australia from December 7th. Check your local guides for session times.


272237 - 2023-12-05 22:35:25


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