For years, film buffs have enjoyed arguing about whether DIE HARD is a Christmas movie. The “yeas” emphasize when it’s happening and what’s going on there besides the mayhem between Bruce and the baddies. The “nays” say it’s the polar opposite of the decades of seasonal feelgood spirit exemplified by everything from IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE to what the Hallmark Channel cranks out annually for the holidays. For them, if it ain’t gooey, it ain’t Yuley. Well, whichever camp you’re in, you’ll vote the same way for this gift from A-list action writer, producer and director John Woo, SILENT NIGHT.
SILENT NIGHT serves as a two-edged title. Besides the main events occurring on consecutive Christmases (for which that title ranks among the most popular carols), the entire film plays out without a single spoken word. Whatever they saved on dialog they spent on bullets, squibs, chase vehicles and sound effects. The film opens with Joel Kinnamon’s character, wearing a butt-ugly Christmas sweater, running after a couple of cars full of gang bangers blasting away at each other. Though he’s shot in the throat and chest, he miraculously survives. But one of the wounds rendered him unable to speak without a trachea tube, which he bitterly shuns. About 20 minutes in, we learn why he was so recklessly pursuing them – his young son had just been killed by one of their stray bullets.
Then we get a pretty slow 30 minutes with a lot of brooding and Kinnamon training and prepping for his revenge. He lives for nothing else, eventually driving his wife (Catalina Sandino Moreno) away to handle her grief in her own way. Between the stretches of almost catatonic mourning sprinkled with seething anger, the rigorous conditioning and self-teaching on weaponry, hand-to-hand and a FAST & FURIOUS level of driving are faithful to what we see whenever an Everyman heroically decides to go full Bronson on whoever done him wrong.
Once we get to the second Christmas, Woo gives us all the splatter and superb stunt work that has defined his long and oft-lauded career. On the adrenaline scale, the last 40 minutes comes in well above Charles Bronson’s vigilante outings (Paul Kersey’s multiple DEATH WISH flicks, MR.MAJESTYK, etc.), yet well shy of the JOHN WICK franchise in quantity; a bit closer in intensity. The big final assault puts Kinnamon and the stunt cast through a grueling, bloody ordeal with a few really stellar demises. Fights are gritty and excellently choreographed – like watching a less-athletic Tony Jaa, or many among the recent wave of crime flicks coming from Korea. And unlike many recent slugfests, this one is adequately lit and edited smoothly enough to follow the action and see the consequences. Not intended for the squeamish.
Besides the action that’s really the motivation for buying a ticket, the cast does quite well at conveying their states of mind without uttering a word. Moreno’s expressive face is particularly eloquent while making up for losing an actor’s most obvious tool for establishing a sympathetic character and emotional arc. Kinnamon is sufficiently convincing in his transformation from blue-collar dad to Rambo. After nearly 50 years, Woo is still going strong. Happy holidays!