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Review: ‘Silent Night’ Delivers a Seasonal Twist on Revenge-Fuelled Action

November 28, 2023Ben MK

The holidays are usually a time for cheerful family fare. However, when it comes to box-office counter-programming, nothing says season's greetings like a good old-fashioned action extravaganza. Whether it's a beloved genre classic like Die Hard or a more contemporary offering like Violent Night, filmmakers are quite fond of upending moviegoers' expectations during the most festive time of the year. And with his 36th theatrical feature, it's John Woo's turn, as the iconic director sets out to tell a tale of vengeance — minus the aid of any kind of traditional dialogue whatsoever.

Enter Silent Night, in which Joel Kinnaman plays Brian Godlock. A devoted husband to wife Saya (Catalina Sandino) and a caring father to seven-year-old son Taylor, Brian's family life is nothing short of idyllic. But when a violent turf war between two rival gangs results in Taylor being killed by a stray bullet at Christmas, the life-altering aftershocks of that horrific event send Brian spiralling into a dark and lonely place. Brutally shot and left for dead himself in that same altercation, Brian awakens in hospital to discover that his vocal cords irrevocably damaged, causing him to lose the ability to speak. Yet, despite his new handicap and the loss of what has essentially been his life's purpose, the grieving father soon finds a new and much more intense reason to continue on.

Burdened by the guilt of not being able to protect Taylor and hellbent on bringing an end to the gang members responsible for his son’s murder, Brian sets out to transform himself into a living weapon for vigilante justice. Still, even with months of backbreaking physical preparation and tactical firepower training, he'll have to face off against an army of low-level thugs and enforcers before he can earn the hard-fought opportunity to take down Playa (Harold Torres), the ruthless, drug-dealing leader of the G1-7 gang and the man ultimately responsible for shattering Brian's family. Will Brian succeed in his one-man quest for retribution? Or will he be so blinded by rage that he'll become an unwitting victim of his own tireless mission of bloody vengeance?

Throw in a determined police detective named Dennis Vassel (Scott Mescudi), and the result has all the makings of an all-too-familiar genre effort. Leave it to Woo, however, to take the movie's high-concept premise and boilerplate storyline and elevate it to the next level. From an impressively and dizzyingly choreographed stairwell shootout that could only have been filmed with the aid of a drone to the final showdown between Brian and Playa, which takes place under a ceiling full of giant, golden ornaments, what Silent Night lacks in narrative innovation it more than makes up for with visual spectacle. Still, for audiences who have grown weary of Woo's specific brand of melodrama, the fact that he deploys them here in spades might also be a turn-off.

Suffice to say, what you see is what you get with Silent Night. And while the absence of dialog can serve as both a blessing and a curse, it's impossible to deny how it gives Woo absolute free reign to do what he does best. Much like the John Wick and Punisher films, this is the kind of movie that will scratch moviegoers' itch for fast-paced gunfights and brutal fisticuffs. The difference here is that there's no real plot to get in the way. So instead of focusing on the backstory, viewers are free to sit back and indulge in all the hard-boiled carnage.

Silent Night releases December 1st, 2023 from VVS Films. The film has an MPAA rating of R for strong bloody violence, drug use and some language. Its runtime is 1 hr. 44 min.

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