“Start Gang War?” This annotation, a calendar reminder written by the film’s protagonist Brian Godluck (Joel Kinnaman), is a perfect encapsulation of just how stupid Silent Night is. Legendary director John Woo returned from a 20-year hiatus from American films to make Silent Night, and the question I’m left with is why? This draggy, dreary, actioner is worth no one’s time, particularly Woo’s. The film’s gimmick, that it has almost no dialogue, is a failure.
The film begins with Brian dressed in a Christmas sweater, covered in blood, running down the street. He’s chasing after two vehicles full of gang members who are firing machine guns at each other. After smashing the windshield of one SUV with a metal bar, Brian is chased down and shot in the back and the throat by Playa (Harold Torres), a man whose face is covered with tattoos. Cut to a hospital, where over the next several months, Brian’s wife Saya (Catalina Sandino Moreno) helps him learn to walk again, though he’s left mute from the bullet to the throat. We also learn via flashback that Brian was chasing the cars because his son Michael died in a drive-by shooting while learning to ride his new Christmas bike.
Overcome with grief, Brian first turns to alcohol, alienating Saya. His thoughts then turn to revenge. In an interminable training montage, seemingly mild-mannered electrician Brian starts to lift weights, learn knife-fighting on YouTube, and train with multiple types of guns. While visiting the office of Detective Dennis Vassel (Scott Mescudi), Brian conveniently finds the “most wanted” portraits of all of the gang members who were involved in his son’s shooting. In contrast to the lengthy scenes of physical training, we’re shown no electronic or other research of how Brian locates all of these men. But find them he does, soon taking photos of their activities from a building across the street with a telescopic lens. After capturing the brains of the gang’s operation and sending two of the man’s fingers to Playa, the gang war is on, setting the stage for Brian to make his own attack.
Courtesy Lions Gate Entertainment
The primary problem with Silent Night is that its screenplay is not strong enough to support its gimmick. Character choices are confounding, especially the aforementioned gang war. Brian has enough morality left that he vomits after committing his first murder, but moments later he’s killing with abandon. Brian sees one police officer die as a result of the fighting between the gangs that he has kicked off, and has to know that the fighting could easily spill into the surrounding area, putting other people’s children at risk. But it’s as if Brian, via screenwriter Robert Archer Lynn, is suddenly too far gone to care. It’s made all the stranger because of two scenes involving a gravestone insinuating that Michael is not the first child Brian has lost to violence. And all of this is in the middle of a film where no one speaks except the occasional radio broadcast or whispered expletive. And there’s no reason for it beyond gimmick. Yes, Brian can’t speak, but characters in scenes he doesn’t appear in don’t speak to each other either. It is frustrating to watch, and the small cheats are a constant distraction. And the one time where the film should cheat the gimmick, it doesn’t. There is a post-death letter from Brian to Saya which would have been the perfect time to finally let the audience hear his voice via narration, but it too is simply shown as words on a screen.
Because it’s a John Woo film, there are moments of stylish action and interesting scene transitions, particularly a tear which transitions into an expelled bullet. But as a whole, the action is shot too closely, and in a grimy darkness. It’s also packed with poor effects. CGI blood? Check. CGI fire? Check. CGI car crash? Check. CGI glass breaking? Check. CGI bird?? You know it. There’s also a laughably cheesy montage of Michael in Christmas ornaments late in the film. It’s almost unbelievable that the same director who made Hard Boiled, The Killer, Face/Off, and Red Cliff (which I consider one of the best films of all time) made this too. An incredible disappointment. On the acting front, there isn’t much either. Kinnaman does what he can with the material, but this character isn’t deep enough to sustain a film with no dialogue. Moreno, who has been great in other films, and Mescudi, who is an increasingly interesting performer are both completely wasted.
Silent Night is the worst film I’ve seen in 2023, the worst John Woo film I’ve seen, and among the worst films I’ve ever seen. I know the adage is that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all, but the film already did that for me.
Silent Night is (unfortunately) in theaters now.