Tuesday, November 28, 2023

John Woo’s Silent Night

What does Joel Kinnaman now have in common with Ray Milland and Shorty Rogers & his Giants? They have all appeared in a synch-sound movie with absolutely no dialogue (Milland in The Thief, 1952, and Rogers in Dementia, 1955). In this case, Hong Kong action master John Woo has better things for Kinnaman to do than make small talk. It is time for some holiday payback in Woo’s Silent Night, which opens Friday in theaters.

Tragically, Brian Godlock’s young son was killed during a street gang shootout on Christmas morning. The Christmas sweater-wearing father ran off after the thugs, managing to take several out. However, the gang-leader Playa put a bullet in Godlock voice box. He survived, but his voice did not. In its place, he nourishes a burning hunger for vengeance.

However, a normal guy like Godlock can’t simply show up at Playa’s compound, guns-blazing. He will need a full year of conditioning and training. Fortunately, the lineman has sufficient skills to iron-plate his new muscle car. Godlock also wants to make his move on Christmas Day, for the symbolic value.

There will be plenty of work-out montages and gearing-up
Commando-style, but no talking. Woo and screenwriter Robert Archer Lynn contrive a lot of non-verbal communication—an arched eyebrow here and a shrug there—but it works well enough, because who really needs to hear Kinnaman anyway? Plus, there is a fair amount of texting between the Godlocks and Playa with his henchmen.

Woo invests in a long set-up that is surprisingly gritty and moody. Nevertheless, fans can rest assured, when Godlock finally makes his move, he delivers everything they could want from John Woo film. The body-count is spectacularly high and the action never lets up. You can see many of Woo’s stylistic flourishes (which are nicely lensed by cinematographer Sharone Meir), but it never overshadows the business at hand.

The tall, broad-shouldered Kinnaman is a perfect action figure for Woo to put through his paces. Scott Mescudi supplements him nicely as Det. Dennis Vassel, the honest cop, who eventually shows up to help Godlock do what needs to be done. Even though these are strictly action scenes, Kinnaman and Mescudi make their communication through wordless body language quite convincing.

There is a bounty of amazing gunplay in
Silent Night, but it is also a grungy throwback to Woo’s early English-language productions, like Hard Target. It is not a big slick monster, like MI:2, but it is stylish. Frankly, this is the perfect scale for Woo’s return and probably his best film since Red Cliff. In a few years, we’ll be arguing whether it is a Christmas movie, but it hardly matters.  Very highly recommended for action fans, Silent Night opens Friday (12/1) in New York theaters, including the Regal E-Walk.