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"Silent Night" Review

 You probably didn't notice, but it's been 20 years since legendary Hong Kong filmmaker John Woo - who made his name with action-packed crime dramas like A Better Tomorrow, The Killer, and Hard Boiled then had a decent run in Hollywood with Broken Arrow, Mission: Impossible II, and the best, Face/Off - has made a Hollywood movie, 2003's Paycheck. He's been working back in China, most notable the two Red Cliff films, but now he's back with Silent Night, a unique premise for a Christmas-set movie that was met with middling reviews and audience disinterest, resulting in a rapid trip to streaming in a few weeks.

 Silent Night is about Brian (Joel Kinnaman), a grieving father whose son was killed by a stray bullet when a rolling gun battle between rival gangs passed their home. When he tried to chase down the participants, one gang banger, Playa (Harold Torres), who sports a questionable face tattoo choice shoots him in the throat, robbing him of his voice and providing the movie its hook: There is almost no dialogue spoken by anyone.

After a month in the hospital, he returns home with his wife, Saya (Catalina Sandino Moreno, Maria Full of Grace), where he becomes withdrawn, spending his days guzzling straight booze in the garage. After a few months of this, he decides to do something with his life. He gets a calendar, writes "KILL THEM ALL" on the block for December 24, the anniversary of his son's death, then gets down to training to do this. While in the beginning he can't do a single pull-up and seems to hit the ceiling of the range more than the target with his gun, as the deadline nears he gets ripped and on target.

 However, in one smart nod to reality, the first time he tries to use his new combat skills learned off YouTube against someone other than practice dummies, he is almost killed because someone is actually fighting back. He's not Rambo and theoretical practice only gets you so far. That said, his night of vengeance sees him up his game, especially driving and shooting, though never to John Wick level, naturally.

 At its core, Silent Night is a bog standard revenge flick which I'm normally friendly too, but here the conceit is the only distinguishing factor and the gimmick is distracting because it's so unnatural. Other than radios giving dates to mark the passage of time (as if the calendar couldn't provide that) or police chatter, there is no reason why no one else speaks other than the gimmick. This makes for a lot of free time for viewers watching at home to provide their own MST3K/Rifftrax commentary such as when Brian goes into his son's untouched bedroom with stuffed animals strewn on the floor and I cried, "Oh no! No one fed the animals for four months and they starved!" Yes, it undercuts the emotional intent of the scene, but we make our own fun at times.

Kinnaman has one gear for most of his performances - glowering - and he does that here as well with a side of grief. Moreno has little to do but grieve and Kid Cudi as the silent police detective who is peripherally involved does what he can with what little there is to do.

As for Woo, he still has it in his mid-70s and checks a couple of his signature move boxes (yes to shooting with two guns, but not while diving; yes to slow-motion donning of a coat; no to doves scattering in the middle of a gunfight) and there are a couple of really gnarly kills, but this all seems like an experiment which at 1h 44m is much too long for what it does. 

If you want good vengeance, stick with the John Wick series. If you want a violent "Christmas" movie full of bloodshed, but you've seen Elf too many times, check out Violent Night (currently on Prime Video).

Score: 4/10. Skip it.


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