Review: ‘Silent Night’ (2023), starring Joel Kinnaman, Scott Mescudi, Harold Torres and Catalina Sandino Moreno

December 23, 2023

by Carla Hay

Joel Kinnaman in “Silent Night” (Photo by Carlos Latapi/Lionsgate)

“Silent Night” (2023)

Directed by John Woo

Culture Representation: Taking place from December 2021 to December 2022, in the fictional city of Las Palomas, Texas, the action film “Silent Night” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, Latino and a few African Americans) portraying the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A man goes on a mission to hunt down and kill all the gang members who were responsible for the Christmas Eve shootout that accidentally killed his 7-year-old son.

Culture Audience: “Silent Night” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker John Woo and mindless action movies.

Harold Torres and Valeria Santaella in “Silent Night” (Photo by Carlos Latapi/Lionsgate)

The gimmick of having no dialogue in a movie quickly becomes boring in the idiotic action flick “Silent Night,” which has too many repetitive scenes of the vigilante protagonist preparing for his revenge mission. By the time he gets around to carrying out his violent vendetta, it becomes a mind-numbing jumble of moronic “one-man killing spree” clichés with shootouts and other bloody fights. Even if this 104-minute movie had been a short film, the movie’s weak and badly conceived plot isn’t enough for a solidly entertaining story.

Directed by John Woo and written by Robert Archer Lynn, “Silent Night” has some scenes that are pretentiously meant to make the movie look artsier than it really is, such as when things are shown in slow motion or scenes that are filmed from difficult camera angles. Some viewers might also think that because Woo has directed many classic action films, then “Silent Night” must belong in the same category. But don’t be fooled. “Silent Night” is a junk movie dressed up to look “daring” and “artsy,” simply because there’s no dialogue in it.

The beginning of “Silent Night” takes place on December 24, 2021, in the fictional city of Las Palomas, Texas. An electrician named Brian Goldlock (played by Joel Kinnaman), wearing a Christmas reindeer sweater, runs frantically through graffiti-covered alleys. Brian, who has visible cuts and other injuries on his face, takes a crowbar and smashes the front window of a sports utility vehicle that has been chasing him.

The driver gets out of the car, which has a few gang members in it. The driver is a menacing-looking thug in his 30s with a bald head and tattoos on his face. Without hesitation, the driver shoots Brian in the throat. Viewers later find out that this killer is named Playa (played by Harold Torres), who is the leader of the gang.

Brian is rushed to a hospital and undergoes emergency surgery. His wife Saya (played by Catalina Sandino Moreno) shows up at the hospital to be by Brian’s side. When he wakes up after being in a coma, he is devastated to find out that he has lost his ability to speak and he can barely make any sounds with his vocal cords.

While Brian is in recovery at the hospital, a police detective named Dennis Vassel (played by Scott Mescudi, also known as rapper Kid Cudi), from the Las Palomas Police Department’s gang enforcement unit, stops by to visit Brian while Brian is unconscious. Saya is in the room, but since this is movie has no dialogue, she and Detective Vassel are not seen speaking to each other. Instead, Detective Vassel leaves behind his business card. Brian is released from the hospital about a month after his surgery.

A series of flashback scenes show what happened on this fateful Christmas Eve. Brian, Saya and their 7-year-old son Taylor (played by Alex Briseño) were spending some happy family time together on the front lawn of their small house. Brian was guiding Taylor on a bicycle. Suddenly, a few cars raced by the house with gang members shooting at each other.

A stray bullet hit Taylor, who died instantly. The movie’s opening scene shows what happened when Brian tried to hunt down the gang members on his own, but then they decided to chase him. And when they had him cornered, Playa shot Brian.

The movie shows that Brian, who is consumed with grief and bitterness, has decided to get revenge. He writes these words on a calendar for the date December 24, 2022, the one-year anniversary of Taylor’s tragic death: “Kill Them All.” It’s at this point in the movie that viewers know that Brian has made it his life’s mission to find and kill all the gang members responsible for Taylor’s death on this anniversary.

How does Brian know which gang members are responsible for Taylor’s death? He just walks right into the Las Palomas Police Department, goes to the gang enforcement unit section, sees gang member photos on the wall, and then uses his phone to take pictures of the photos. No one in the police department notices or stops and questions Brian on what he’s doing there. Yes, the movie really is this stupid.

Brian buys a beat-up looking car that he plans to use for his crime spree. “Silent Night” wastes a lot of time showing unimaginative and tedious scenes of Brian shooting guns at a target practice range and doing skidding wheelies in his getaway car, as if he’s trying to be some kind of vigilante stunt driver. And just to prove that he’s serious about killing people, “Silent Night” shows Brian using a life-sized dummy to practice stabbing a person.

And where is Saya during all of this scheming? All she knows is that Brian has become emotionally distant and has been disappearing for periods of time without telling her where he is. Because there’s no dialogue in the movie, Saya is shown communicating with Brian by text, but he usually ignores her messages. It’s a thankless “worried wife at home” role.

Brian ends up stalking the gang members whom he has identified as those he wants to kill. Don’t expect to learn anything about these gang members except that Playa has a sexual relationship with a young woman named Venus (played by Valeria Santaella) under his submission. Venus is a needle-using drug addict, and Playa keeps her under his control by injecting her with unnamed drugs. In other words, it’s questionable if this is a truly consensual relationship.

“Silent Night” had the potential to be a much better movie if it actually cared about making the characters interesting and the story more suspenseful. Every character in the movie is either a hollow stereotype or too vague to make a difference. The way that the revenge plot plays out lacks any intrigue or innovation. It’s all just a lackluster series of scenes to the inevitable showdown where one person who is outnumbered and outgunned is expected to massacre a gang of criminals.

Lionsgate released “Silent Night” in U.S. cinemas on December 1, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on December 19, 2023.

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