I was selling stuff at Have Yourself a Gothic Christmas the other weekend and overheard some women talking about a new Christmas-themed action movie with no dialogue at all and starring "he's such a hunk! I'll watch anything with him in it!" Joel Kinnaman.
I'd enjoyed Kinnaman in For All Mankind, especially once the people behind that show figured out how good he is at expressing that particular range of emotions from grumpy to furious. He also has broad shoulders and a tall physique, which all could certainly combine to make him an effective action star.
During a slow moment at the show I snuck a peek at the trailer:
I don't usually do memes, but this more or less reflects what I felt as I watched the trailer and then did some follow-up research on IMDB:
That night I showed the trailer to Shannon and we both agreed that we must see this movie ASAP. So we did.
First things first: the trailer and the timing of the release gives the impression that this might be a darkly satirical Christmas-themed movie, with comic violence doled out while wearing a jolly sweater, sort of like Violent Night. That's not really the case. Instead, it's a tightly made high-concept operatic revenge thriller that just happens to mostly take place around Christmas. The emotions are high and the violence is especially crunchy. The real target audience is those who like to watch Die Hard over the holidays.
Here are some things I like about it:
It is indeed a dialogue-free movie. The main character loses his voice in the inciting incident at the start of the film, and the few bits of necessary dialogue are handled via text messages or written notes. This requires some more overt directing and cinematography, heavier-handed symbolism, and broader performances; it sometimes makes me feel like I'm watching a film from the 1920s. It also makes the plot, by necessity, more streamlined and somewhat formulaic - but that actually makes the movie more effective. This also presumably makes it easier to adapt for non-English-speaking markets.
The central idea is interesting to consider: a man loses his child on Christmas eve, and he decides to enact brutal vengeance on the following Christmas eve, so he single-mindedly dedicates much of the intervening year to working out and training up to be a bad-ass. How bad-ass could you become if you had just one year and a strict deadline? It's hard to say, and maybe someone should make a reality TV show about that. Anyhow, I really like how where most movies would just have a few minutes of a training montage, this training sequence takes up a good quarter of Silent Night's run-time.
Speaking of run-time, I was so happy to find out that this film clocks in at 1 hour and 44 minutes. This is so refreshing in a world where features can sometimes be twice that length. Silent Night does it what it wants to do and it does it well and doesn't out-stay its welcome. More like this please!
It was great to be able to watch a John Woo action movie in a cinema. The only film of his I've seen on a big screen was Red Cliff, which is a historical epic rather than a "bullet opera". Officially it was edited by Zach Staenberg, but you can see John Woo's hands all over it, from the time dilation to the 2001-grade graphic match-cut from a tear falling from a cheek to a shell casing bouncing off the floor. It turns out Zach edited The Matrix, so he already knows Woo's style. Their collaboration was probably intense! While it's fantastic on the big screen, I could easily see Silent Night becoming part of our regular holiday home viewing (along with Muppet Christmas Carol, Brazil, and of course Die Hard)
That said, awesome as it is to see John Woo doing Hollywood movies again, this is not on the same level as his classic films like The Killer, Hard Boiled, or even Face/Off. It's a solid piece of work from someone who's been doing this kind of thing for decades.
Also, the movie is a bit of a throw-back to violent right-wing vengeance movies like Dirty Harry or Death Wish, where the lone white guy family man exacts violent deadly justice against mostly people of colour. That said, the dynamic is a bit different when the movie is made by an Asian and it's shot in Mexico City, and the rest of the cast is pretty diverse as well.
If you want a change of pace from Hallmark holiday films and appreciate some solid action done by a master of the craft, you could do a lot worse than checking out Silent Night.