A new John Woo action film should be a Christmas gift for all. Woo, after all, stands as one of the genre's most prolific voices. He has imprinted his slick, auteur sensibilities across decades of titles, consistently extracting a sunglass-wearing suaveness from countless explosive setpieces.
With "Silent Night," a Christmas-themed actioner that honors its title through a dialogue-free approach," Woo and company deliver coal down viewers' stockings in a misguided shoot'em up.
On paper, a no-dialogue approach resonates with promise. Film remains a medium focused on showing, not telling a story. I applaud the creative team for attempting to reconjure the cinematic magic of silent-era features while providing a welcomed platform for an ASL-driven nature.
If only the concept meshed on screen, because "Silent Night" unfortunately aims and misfires at articulating its promising perspective. Woo and screenwriter Robert Archer Lynn display a clumsy storytelling touch, often relying upon overwrought, Hallmark-esque music and broad emotional strokes to elicit interest.
These devices feel extremely cloying, especially when the narrative tells its routine revenge story with somber self-seriousness. I do credit star Joel Kinnaman for elevating his generic everyman role through his sheer presence alone, but not even the actor can imbue any texture into the flatlining material. We are supposed to rally behind Kinnaman as Brian, a man drowning in grief from his son's death and unable to vocalize his frustrations. Unfortunately, the film rarely depicts his emotional anguish with gravity.
"Silent Night" resembles an emotionally brooding bore during its first hour, cycling between maudlin melodrama and tension-free cat-and-mouse pursuits. Then, out of nowhere, the final act resurrects itself as an arresting action romp. Woo rains down bullet-ridden bloodshed across several tense hallway shootouts. His kinetic verve behind the camera magnifies each encounter's intensity. The frenetic framing dynamically shifts with each impactful movement, while Woo's signature eye for adrenaline-pumping combat sequences is intoxicating to witness. These fleeting frames reminded me why I was excited to see Woo return to the director's chair. If "Silent Night" stopped preaching didactic dramatic platitudes at the expense of Woo's alluring action movie aesthetics, the final product would have satisfied the demands of action fans.
As it stands, "Silent Nights" reminds viewers that commendable intentions can result in a tedious experience. Woo fans, just watch the YouTube clips when this comes out on video.