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Film Review: SILENT NIGHT (2023): John Woo Directs a Violent, Stylish Film That is Ultimately Too Gritty and Over-the-Top

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Joel Kinnaman Silent Night

Silent Night Review

Silent Night (2023) Film Review, a movie directed by John Woo, written by Robert Archer Lynn and starring Joel Kinnaman, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Kid Cudi, Harold Torres, Vinny O’Brien, Yoko Hamamura, Anthony Giulietti and John Pollack

John Woo is a true master in the art of film-making but his latest movie, Silent Night, which is coming late in the established director’s career, often feels completely devoid of human emotion in terms of its graphic, gritty violence. Yes, the main character, Brian Godlock (Joel Kinnaman), mourns over the death of his young son and has a big heart, but you wouldn’t know anybody else in the movie is a genuine human being except maybe for Brian’s grieving wife, Saya (Catlina Sandino Moreno) and the child that they lose to an act of senseless violence. Is Silent Night a proficient film from a technical standpoint? You better believe it with Woo at the helm. Does the movie work as an action movie? Only occasionally. Is it a good film, overall? Not really, because Kinnaman doesn’t speak during the course of the picture through no fault of the character’s own. Something happens to him that causes his inability to speak. Woo decided to “go for broke” with this film by not bringing in any dialogue and that choice ultimately undermines a bit of the integrity of the film.

The last few scenes of Silent Night are something of a guilty pleasure thanks to wall-to-wall action and a pulsating soundtrack, but Woo has done much better work than this in the past. You can almost feel that Woo is scraping the bottom of the creative barrel at times due to the completely non-formulaic structure of the movie. Silent Night is grounded in a tense reality that is rather depressing to endure during the picture’s brief running time. This movie ultimately rests on its action scenes and can only be as good as its premise allows it to be thanks to the gimmicky nature of the plot. The holiday the film is set around (which is evident in the title) is not as pivotal to the movie as it could have been either.

Anthony Giulietti portrays Brian’s son in a couple of key scenes that shed light on the tremendous loss that Brian is experiencing during the course of the movie. Though Kinnaman makes the movie’s gimmick work for him at times, it is not a wholly successful effort. Woo helps his performance considerably through the movie’s lack of dialogue, but the bad taste that the violence leaves ultimately becomes an obstacle to enjoyment of the film as a whole.

Silent Night has some interesting, dark villainous characters. They are headed by those responsible for Brian’s son’s death, including a gang leader called Playa (Harold Torres), but the mean-spirited plot takes away from the quality of the movie. The wife played by Moreno doesn’t have to talk to make the audience feel for the fact that she has lost her husband to his desires to inflict vengeance on those who have wronged him. Saya is a good-hearted woman who is suffering the loss of her child to gang violence and Moreno helps give the movie a pulse in her brief screen time.

Kid Cudi, in a very distinct performance, comes into the picture at various intervals as Detective Vassell who ends up embroiled in Brian’s scheme of vengeance which involves taking out those responsible for his son’s death and assorted criminal activity. Cudi adds unique qualities to another solid role for his resume but his character ultimately gets lost in the violence and isn’t one of the performer’s best parts.

A disturbing scene comes towards the end as Brian is confronted with the choice as to whether or not to kill a woman. Brian lets her live and she proceeds to try to shoot him. In fact, she does. How Brian shows any sympathy towards the bad guys here seems rather unusual given the main baddies’ murdering of his son. But, Brian isn’t the most well-written action hero. He does sweet things such as set up a small train set by his son’s grave but the movie still feels like it comes up a bit short on both character and plot development.

John Woo can never do wrong when staging dramatic action sequences. He gives his character a terrific reason to fight the baddies. Woo also adds his signature directorial style to the material. The big mistake, though, was to not let the characters talk in full sentences. One can respect Woo’s scenes of brutal violence and the end of the picture lays bodies beside one another after unspeakable acts of violence have occurred. The ending is pretty good if you don’t let the fact that the story lacks depth bother you.

It would be easier to say that Silent Night lacks energy but it really doesn’t. What it lacks is a believable sense of heart. Kinnaman’s character would throw down his life for his family, and he can’t resist the urge to make the killer(s) suffer for what they did to his son. But, do the ends justify the means? You decide. A revenge picture like this has been done many times before. However, Woo makes it play out a little better than it could have thanks to the director’s staging of “the” definitive action scenes towards the movie’s conclusion, complete with cars getting damaged and an interesting final reveal.

At the end there are some scenes that stand out such as ones where Brian visits his son’s grave. Brian may have wished his son lived instead of him, but the movie plays out so darkly that audiences may feel colder than expected by the time the end credits roll. Woo gives the movie signature trademarks of the famous director that he has become, but by the time the credits come up, there’s simply too much style here and too little substance.

Rating: 6/10

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