The Movie Waffler New Release Review - SILENT NIGHT | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - SILENT NIGHT

Silent Night review
A grieving father plots revenge against those responsible for the death of his son.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: John Woo

Starring: Joel Kinnaman, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Scott Mescudi, Harold Torres

Silent Night poster

Is there a more primal and basic sub-genre than the revenge thriller? Something bad happens to the protagonist, usually the murder of a loved one or sometimes even a pet (or a rape if they're a woman), and said protagonist seeks violent revenge against those who wronged them. With his Christmas-set revenge thriller Silent Night, John Woo strips the set-up down to its bare bones with a movie that is practically dialogue free.

Silent Night review

When his seven-year-old son fatally catches a stray bullet from a drive-by shooting on Christmas Eve, Brian (Joel Kinnaman) chases after the Mexican mobsters involved and ends up being shot in the throat. He survives, but loses his voice. Refusing an artificial voicebox, Brian retreats into himself, ignoring his grieving wife (Catalina Sandino Moreno) and hitting the bottle. After a while he decides to get revenge on the gangsters responsible for his loss. He purchases a second hand sports car and uses his engineering skills to turn it into something resembling the Batmobile. He physically trains himself relentlessly, eventually revealing an action hero torso that's as far from a dad bod as imaginable. He spends hours at the gun range. On a calendar he writes the words "Kill them all" on December 24th. His wife leaves him. He scopes out the gangsters' hideaway. Then Christmas Eve comes around, and he unleashes hell.

It sounds like a formula for success, and a premise like this should be catnip for a veteran action filmmaker like Woo. But Silent Night is remarkably dull. After an adrenalised opening sequence it takes close to an hour for the action to resurface, leaving us to watch Brian put himself through the sort of preparations we've seen hundreds of vengeful protagonists go through in past movies. Just to make sure we don’t forget Brian's motivations we're treated to endless flashbacks of Brian and his family in vignettes that wouldn't be out of place in a conservative politician's campaign commercial.

Silent Night review

When the action does kick in it's weightless and lacks the grit necessary for this grimiest of sub-genres. Despite having decided to become Batman mere months before, Brian is unfeasibly adept at taking out scores of Mexican cartel members. An African-American cop (Scott Mescudi) is shoehorned in as an ally to Brian, presumably so it doesn't come off as too much of a white supremacist fantasy.

Woo's first American movie in two decades looks like it was shot in 2003 and left on the shelf. It has that horrible, sickly green and orange colour scheme that was so popular in the early noughties, as seen in the Saw movies and JJ Abrams' Mission Impossible III. The soundtrack is filled with industrial dance music, which seems unlikely to be on the Spotify playlist of Mexican gangsters. As with Woo's previous American movies, Silent Night proves that only Asians look cool firing two guns in slow motion; everyone else just looks silly.

Silent Night review

What's most disappointing about Silent Night is that its silent conceit is no more than a gimmick that often takes us out of the movie. Brian's wounds render him mute but he's not deaf, so it makes no sense that no other characters utter a word around him. It's particularly implausible in the scenes shared with his wife that she never once opens her mouth to express herself. When villains are shot, stabbed and punched they react in silence rather than screaming expletives. I'm a hardcore supporter of the "show, don't tell" principle when it comes to filmmaking, but Silent Night is so stubborn in sticking to its gimmick that it makes a mockery of visual storytelling. If you want to see this idea pulled off with aplomb, check out Coralie Fargeat's excellent Revenge.

Silent Night
 is on Sky Cinema from December 23rd.

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