Movie Reviews
Silent Night (2023).

Silent Night Review: An Entertaining Albeit Predictable Film

In Silent Night, director John Woo revisits familiar thematic territory. Despite minimal spoken dialogue, a symptom of the lead character’s incapacitating injury, this ambitious action thriller teeters between spectacular cinematography and tedious story beats.

Joel Kinnaman stars as Brian Godlock, a father and electrician bent on exacting revenge against the gang who kills his son on Christmas Eve. Rendered speechless due to a gunshot wound, Godlock becomes obsessed with his vengeance mission. Kinnaman gives a capable, intense performance, with his grief-filled silence amplifying the power of the few words he’s given.

There is no denying Woo’s signature style. From fluid tracking shots to fiery slow-motion shootouts, he continues to showcase his unparalleled ability to turn chaos into balletic action sequences. Nevertheless, there is a frustrating predictability. Despite innovative execution, one gets the feeling of having seen it all before. The recurrent image of a dove, Woo’s well-known motif, almost borders on parody this time around.

Catalina Sandino Moreno‘s performance as Saya is tender and heartbreaking. She becomes the emotional touchstone, keeping the narrative grounded amid the ensuing violence. Still, her role feels severely underutilized, lost in the masculine milieu.

Screenwriter Robert Archer Lynn relies heavily on tropes common in the action-revenge genre. For instance, a section dedicated to Brian’s physical transformation—replete with bodybuilding, self-defense training, and gun familiarization—is unnecessarily extended and somewhat redundant. A leaner plot may have made for a more compelling viewing.

However, it’s Brian’s fraught, uneasy alliance with Detective Dennis Vassel (Scott Mescudi) that brings the most unexpected narrative depth. It is in their sparse dialogue exchanges, conveyed largely through text messages and actions, where we glean their shared dedication to justice.

The final act is drenched in cinematic violence, hallmarked by Woo’s tendency for bloody and poetic stand-offs. The fight scene with Playa’s girlfriend is unexpectedly fraught with tension. Yet, Silent Night often missteps in finding the balance between its show-stopping sequences and the story’s emotive throughline.

A somewhat incoherent epilogue hints at alternative realities and robs the narrative of the momentum it builds towards the finale. A tender but misguided scene where Brian imagines a future with his son graduating college feels extraneous. Despite this misstep, Kinnaman’s strong acting carries through, conveying the tragedy and emptiness his character experiences in an attempt to provide closure.

Filmed on location in Mexico City, the sprawling metropolis backdrop serves as a stark contrast to the Texan town Godlock calls home. There’s a stark divide here that underscores Brian’s out-of-element predicament, paralleling his emotional turmoil.

In all, Silent Night is a return to form for Woo. He weaves his masterful flair for visual spectacle into the otherwise conventional narrative. But, there are too many derivative elements that hold it back from transcending its genre.

Kinnaman’s committed portrayal of a speechless avenger ensures there is something memorable amid the tumultuous, occasionally muddled journey. In Silent Night, silence might not necessarily mean strength, but Kinnaman ensures it isn’t altogether forgettable.

  • Acting - 7.5/10
  • Cinematography/Visual Effects - 7/10
  • Plot/Screenplay - 5/10
  • Setting/Theme - 5/10
  • Watchability - 7/10
  • Rewatchability - 5/10
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