Combustible Celluloid Review - Silent Night (2023), Robert Archer Lynn, John Woo, Joel Kinnaman, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Scott "Kid Cudi" Mescudi, Harold Torres, Yoko Hamamura, Valeria Santaella
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With: Joel Kinnaman, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Scott "Kid Cudi" Mescudi, Harold Torres, Yoko Hamamura, Valeria Santaella
Written by: Robert Archer Lynn
Directed by: John Woo
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence, drug use and some language
Running Time: 104
Date: 12/01/2023

Silent Night (2023)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Jingle Bell Glock

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A simple tale of vengeance, this action movie with little-to-no spoken dialogue benefits from superior filmmaking, as well as a serious undercurrent about the destructive, circular nature of violence.

Brian Godlock (Joel Kinnaman) races through the streets, wearing a Christmas sweater covered in blood. It's Christmas Eve, and his seven-year-old son was shot and killed by a stray bullet during a gang shootout, and Brian has gone after them. He winds up shot in the throat, and after a long hospital stay, can no longer speak.

At first he wallows in self-pity and alcohol, and then begin focusing on vengeance. He trains himself in combat, knives, guns, and stunt driving, and researches the gang responsible for the shooting. His wife, Saya (Catalina Sandino Moreno) tearfully leaves him. Finally, after sending a message to police detective Dennis Vassel (Scott "Kid Cudi" Mescudi), it's time. It's Christmas Eve one year later, and Brian is prepared to "kill them all."

Silent Night brings back master Hong Kong filmmaker John Woo, whose last movie released in American theaters was Red Cliff, fourteen years ago, and whose last movie made for a Hollywood studio was Paycheck, twenty years ago. His immense skill as an action director has not diminished. Not only does he possess a firm knowledge of space, rhythm, and motion, but he also knows how to instill his sequences with a strong, almost operatic, emotional core. When his characters fight, they fight with everything they have, for something that means the world.

But while Silent Night is thrilling — and it is a tour-de-force, with its lack of dialogue, purely visual storytelling, and Kinnaman's intensely physical performance (perhaps even surpassing Michael Fassbender in The Killer) — it also understands that this mission is futile. Brian's path of vengeance, of vigilantism, will bring no peace, no rest, and no return to normal.

There's a great moment in which Brian holds Saya in his arms. They are on the couch, and the shot hovers above and behind them, taking in the whole, empty room. It's their last embrace before they part ways, Saya looking to move on and Brian choosing violence, because he can't stand the thought of choosing nothing. Silent Night may not be a joyous Christmastime celebration, but it certainly packs a punch.

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