Film Review: Silent Night (2023)
Directed by John Woo. Written by Robert Archer Lynn. Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Kid Cudi.
Reviewed by Justin Clarke
In theatres from 7th December 2023
- Joel Kinnaman brings gritty brutality to this experimental Christmas themed action flop by director John Woo -
Attempting to add his own Christmas-set action film into the “Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?” debate, action director John Woo (Face/Off, Mission: Impossible 2) returns with experimental thriller, Silent Night. What sets this film apart from other action movies? It features no dialogue. That’s right, the “silent” is literal. Producer Erica Lee stated when confirming this, “It was another spec script that I was given and read, and I was like, "This is either going to be a genius move or a disaster, there's no in between." So which end does the film come out on? Let’s just say, Silent Night won’t be on my rewatch list of Christmas-themed action movies anytime soon.
The plot of Silent Night bears similar resemblance to other films featured in the action thriller canon. A grieving father (Joel Kinnaman) enacts his long-awaited revenge against a ruthless gang on Christmas Eve. It borrows from the grittiness of the John Wick franchise and plot points of Woo’s previous film, Face/Off, but with the ham-fisted melodrama of the less loved Mission: Impossible 2.
Joel Kinnaman stars in John Woo's Silent Night (2023)
With the film having zero dialogue, Woo amplifies the use of music to portray emotions, plot points and character beats. Unlike the more successful dialogue-free sci-fi thriller, No One Will Save You, this feels much more forced and less natural. Where characters should be weeping, uttering words of comfort or at least a reasonable slur as Kinnaman shoots and stabs his way through red shirt gang characters, their mouths are either zipped, muted or replaced with melodramatic music that would make The Bold and the Beautiful blush.
It’s at this point you kind of have to feel sorry for Kinnaman and his pursuit of action hero stardom. Kinnaman clearly has the chops to make this film great, with his character having the ability to rival that of Keanu Reeves’ Wick. With his character suitably muted due to a point blank gunshot to the throat, he replaces his words with a scowl attune to a brooding Bruce Wayne, and his heavy bouts of loss with pummels of pure anger and adrenaline. After the failure of RoboCop and David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, this film is unfortunately another notch on Kinnaman’s belt of action movie mishaps.
What Woo does well here is show a panache for action set pieces. There are beautiful one shot takes that continue the trend of embedding them as a staple in contemporary action. Bullets fly towards enemies with a heft that makes the walls tremor, and the brutality of Kinnaman’s punches make you wince.
Silent Night may not be ringing in the Christmas period this December.
All this is for nought however as the lack of sound outside the dialogue-free elements just makes everything else feel dulled. Silent Night would be a Foley Artist’s nightmare as key action sequences are muffled or hollowed, as if recorded in a warehouse instead of a small room, and other pieces of diegetic sound are otherwise eradicated entirely. Whether this was Woo’s intention to subvert the action genre or to continually distance his audience is unknown - but it makes for a rather frustrating watch.
Silent Night may not be ringing in the Christmas period this December, but it does offer a subverted take on the action genre with a gritty Kinnaman in the lead role. Thankfully there are other Christmas movies, like Die Hard, to truly welcome you into the yuletide spirit.