It’s been a long time since we’ve unleashed Woo with the box office.
For many years, John Woo was action’s greatest hero. Known for his penchant for bullets, blood (and doves), the director has a certain sense of pageantry about his films that have always made him unique and adored. In fact, titles such as The Killer, Hard Boiled and Face/Off are considered by many to be among the most iconic of action thrillers. (In fact, he even got a shot at one of the earlier Mission: Impossible movie.) Now, after a six-year absence, Silent Night sees Woo finally return to the director’s chair with a very bloody holiday in mind.
Directed by Woo, Silent Night begins as Brian Godluck (Joel Kinnaman) is fleeing for his life. Having just witnessed the death of his son at the hands of a gang war’s crossfire, Brian is left shattered by the experience, both emotionally and physically. While recovering from a wound that has left him without a voice, Brian becomes obsessed with revenge. Training relentlessly, Brian taps into his inner warrior so that he can inflict his own brand of justice on those who destroyed his family.
With Woo at the helm, one can be sure that this Silent Night will be anything but. Powered by car chases and brutal battles, the sound of gunfire rains upon the viewer for the better part of the film’s 105-minute runtime. But what makes this action thriller particularly interesting is the way that it uses its dialogue (or lack thereof). With almost no words spoken, Woo keeps the emphasis solely on the film’s action scenes, a decision that plays to the iconic director’s strengths. As a result, this is very much a film that wants to empty its clip through gunfire, hand-to-hand combat, and some wonderfully choreographed car chases.
As the fury-fueled Brian, Kinnaman delivers a performance that’s both focused and intense. Without the burden of dialogue, there is an inner rage within him that burns through his eyes. It’s always fascinating to see an actor portray their character’s emotional struggle through their physical performance and Kinnaman accepts the challenge with enthusiasm.
But, despite the non-stop action and solid lead performance, there’s still something missing from this Night. Unlike other recent examples of the ‘revenge genre’, this character’s rage somehow makes him less empathetic. This is not to take away from his emotional trauma. (After all, the loss of a child leaves scars that nothing can heal.) Yet, while John Wick or Taken’s Brian Mills were characters who were forced back into the ‘game’ despite their desire for peace, Godluck does the opposite. Broken by grief, he deliberately chooses to lean into his dark side. (In fact, he takes six months to plan and hone his craft in order to do so.)
Unlike those other characters who were looking for a second chance, Godluck is a good man who goes bad.
Although he would argue that his actions are stirred by love for his family, Brian is a man fueled by hate. Turning away from his wife and everyone that he loves, he invests himself in his anger and begins to plan his revenge. While this isn’t necessarily a knock against the film, it does make it harder to empathize with Brian’s motivation, despite his circumstances. There’s no question that, in the revenge thriller, violence is usually the only solution. But, in this Night, Brian’s actions somehow seem even darker and more calculated than usual.
Admittedly, for many, this will seem like a minor quibble. Unleashing his directorial ferocity, Woo ensures that Silent Night makes good use of its visuals and provides some intense action pieces that are sure to get the blood pumping. Even so, there’s something about the tone of this Night that leaves the viewer feeling cold.
Silent Night is available in theatres on Friday, December 1st, 2023.