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‘Silent Night’ review: No talk or play in new John Woo flick

Courtesy of Lionsgate


John Woo is one of the greatest action directors to ever do it. Even at his lowest (“Mission: Impossible 2” – which rules) he manages to churn out a decent looking picture with more than a few stylish sequences to make up for the lack of an engaging story. Only a small chunk of those qualities exists in the filmmakers latest, “Silent Night,” his first American picture since the 2003 Ben Affleck sci-fi clunker “Paycheck,” a film that, on paper, had the makings to be another Woo classic, but ends up being another cliché riddled low-level basement burner that is far removed from the filmmaker’s bigger swings.


And “Silent Night” is indeed a swing, albeit one that overstays its welcome after about the 45-minute mark when you start to wonder if any of the inciting action will begin to pay dividends. Aside from one close quartered brawl inside a secluded garage at the hour marker (the film runs a shade over 105 minutes), “Silent Night” doesn’t have the style or substance Woo used to be known for. For starters, the move takes its title quite literally wherein no character utters a single word of dialogue for the entire runtime. It stems from the main character, played by Joel Kinnaman, getting shot in the throat by a gang of stereotypical Hispanic gangsters after chasing them down when a stray bullet ricochets and kills his young child.


It’s a classic revenge thriller with a twist where, again, nobody speaks, which makes the proceedings so much more confusing as more characters, a police detective played by Kid Cudi for example, come and go and just…don’t say a word. It becomes unintentionally hilarious, except the movie doesn’t play the gimmick for laughs. It wants to be taken seriously.


I suppose that would have been fine if Woo, an action maestro who has staged some of the most exhilarating genre set pieces of the last two centuries, had infused the movie with kick ass stunts and bloody brawls that weren’t afraid of bordering on camp, but it makes the odd choice of extending what is the basic equivalent of a 10 minute montage into a feature length film. The film wants us to connect with Kinnaman’s character (grieving father) and infuse the movie with some form of emotion (the title also refers to the yuletide season as the young child is killed on Christmas eve, except there isn’t any real ties to the merry season) and yet, it’s so mean spirited in the execution (every bad guy is just a bland, nameless villain of color), you can never get on its wavelength. 


Woo is better than this. 


Grade: C- 

SILENT NIGHT is now playing in theaters.


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