John Woo's return to American cinema is a worryingly shortsighted action flick
John Woo has taken a 20 year break from Hollywood, having brought his cinematic action style to 1990s America from Hong Kong. This revolutionized the genre in the West and many copycats have taken his stylistic mantle, from David Leitch to Chad Stahelski. It would be hard to imagine John Wick (2014), Atomic Blonde (2017), or Nobody (2021) without Woo’s influence.
Silent Night (2023) takes on the challenge of making an entire action movie dialogue free. Brian (Joel Kinnaman) is a suburban dad who loses his son (Anthony Giulietti) to a stray bullet from gang members, and is additionally shot through the throat, causing him to lose his ability to speak. Vowing revenge, Brian trains to become a lethal weapon to take down his son’s murderers.
Woo’s direction still delivers visceral and vivid action, with a careful use of cinematography and sound to give each hit a weight and texture. The dialogue-free challenge is a curious choice, yet starts to become forced after only 20 minutes. One simply can’t see why so many characters wouldn’t be speaking in given scenes. The lack of dialogue also doesn’t permit much characterization, we don’t develop Brian or his relationship to his son and wife (Catalina Sandina Moreno).
Kinnaman has a similar curse to another actor of his generation, Toby Kebbell, of being incredibly talented actors always in mediocre projects. Kinnaman has had false starts in the likes of Robocop (2014), and Suicide Squad (2016), but found a haven in TV with a guest role in House of Cards (2013-2018) and currently leading the ensemble of For All Mankind (2019-) (curiously Kebbell has also found solace in Apple TV with Servant (2019-2023) and joining the cast of For All Mankind). In Silent Night, Kinnaman delivers what he can from the challenging role, and begs the question: when he will find his deserved break and become a movie star.
Silent Night is competent in action, but rather generic with its narrative. The lack of dialogue leads to flat characters you struggle to care about. Yet the film’s biggest problem is one of perception. Much like the obliviousness in Rambo: Last Blood (2019), Bad Boys for Life (2020), and Cry Macho (2021), Silent Night puts forward the idea of violent Hispanics flooding peaceful “American” communities. In the cases of Rambo and Cry Macho, it has to be working-class white men who deliver a violent justice, bypassing cooperation with the police. Silent Night delivers this same message with Brian, as he not only chases down and coldly murders gang members involved in his son’s death, but also murders dealers and junkies on the street in cold blood. To place these images on screen in America, when working class white men are being constantly told that minorities are coming to kill their children and invade their country, feels incredibly shortsighted and dangerous.
In the end, Silent Night’s fight choreography, along with tasteful sound and cinematography, delivers thrills, but the forced silence gimmick, cookie-cutter revenge plot, and the racially inflaming message makes this film a forgettable and worrying viewing.