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Review: Silent Night (2023)

[The following review contains MINOR SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]

Silent Night represents something of a stylistic departure for John Woo. Beyond its central gimmick—the script features minimal spoken dialogue, communicating the plot through visuals alone whenever possible—the movie is a rather traditional revenge drama, sharing more in common with Taxi Driver, Death Wish, and Hardcore than it does with any of the director’s own previous efforts. Joel Kinnaman’s mute protagonist, for example, is not a superhuman badass capable of defying gravity and mowing down thugs like so many blades of grass; on the contrary, he’s a fairly average guy, requiring literal months of intense physical training before he’s able to put even a single bullet in a stationary target. Indeed, after lethally subduing a foe for the first time, he pukes his guts out—an entirely reasonable emotional response that would nevertheless feel utterly alien in Woo’s earlier work. I wouldn’t call the grounded, gritty, naturalistic approach to the action “subtle” by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s certainly a far cry from the slow motion, guns akimbo spectacle that defined Hard Boiled, Face/Off, and Mission: Impossible 2.

And to be perfectly honest, I admire that (relative) restraint. Although I subscribe to auteur theory, I must acknowledge that it can be extremely limiting when applied too rigidly; some overzealous critics develop inflexible preconceived notions regarding what a particular filmmaker's voice "should" be, dismissing any perceived deviation from the established "trademarks" as an unacceptable failure. With Silent Night, Woo deliberately eschews many of the tropes commonly associated with him, distancing himself from the excessive maximalism that he arguably codified. Instead, he delivers a lean, efficient, elegantly simple thriller—and there is great value in that uncharacteristic authorial invisibility.

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