Review Roundup: John Woo’s Silent Night

Critics respond to the action maestro’s first Hollywood film in two decades.
Silent Night - John Woo

Thanks to films like Hard Boiled (1992), The Killer (1989), and A Better Tomorrow (1986), John Woo basically created modern action filmmaking. In other words, if it weren’t for John Woo, there’d be no John Wick. But for the last two decades, Woo has worked almost exclusively in China and Hong Kong, making films like the 2008’s Red Cliff and 2017’s Manhunt.

Silent Night is his first Hollywood film since 2003’s Paycheck, and stars Joel Kinnaman as a family man who seeks to avenge his son’s death on Christmas Eve. Interestingly, the film is almost entirely free of dialog — Kinnaman’s character loses his voice during the attack that kills his son — which honestly, might be perfect for a filmmaker like Woo who possesses a knack for visually thrilling set pieces.

But how does Silent Night stack up against Woo’s more famous and beloved action titles? Read on for a collection of critics’ reviews and reactions.

Siddhant Adlakha, A weightless, witless, artless film”

Each gunshot and car melee (this all sounds much cooler than it looks) is robbed of its impact by a typically Hollywood reliance on cutting away too quickly, and too much of the movie takes place in a sludge of darkness. This is a particularly dull and ugly looking work, without the sense of pomp or presence Woo usually brings. Instead, the scrappy, direct-to-video visual approach does Silent Night’s lofty attempts at action grandeur no favors, since most of them fall flat. When the camera does hold — on lengthy staircase and hallway scenes reminiscent of Marvel’s faux-gritty Netflix output — the result is equally lacking in consequence, since the movie’s villains seem to sustain no damage until there’s a final killshot.

Paul Attard, As artful as anything that Woo has whipped up throughout his career”

When Silent Night does finally kick into high gear, the action is as artful as anything that Woo has whipped up throughout his storied career. Having a mute protagonist sheds a lot of the unnecessary fat that’s become par for the course in big-budget studio fare over the years, and it allows Woo to home in on the things he excels at: kinetic, rhythmically beautiful hand-to-hand combat sequences; large-scale acts of vehicular fury; and knowing how to stage massive gunfights with a keen awareness for mapping out cinematic space.

Chris Bumbray, An action-packed return to form”

While not among Woo’s best work, Silent Night is still a more than decent comeback for the action auteur. By embracing a different style, Woo proves that as far as action goes, he still has plenty of fresh ideas. While the movie’s no-dialogue aspect occasionally wears thin, the action is copious and makes this a must-see for Woo’s fans and younger viewers who may not know his stuff.

Peter Debruge, A high-concept comeback”

The tone of Silent Night is deadly serious, but one can feel Woo having fun behind the camera, and his amusement translates back to the audience in a big way. Only Woo could pull off many of the camera tricks on display here, while others — including an extended shootout in the graffiti-tagged stairwell leading up to Playa’s lair — suggest that he’s been watching what directors such as Chad Stahelski and David Leitch have been up to (in John Wick and Atomic Blonde), and wants to offer his own take on the gratuitous “oner” trend.

David Ehrlich, A dull and gimmicky riff on Taken and John Wick

All of this flowery excess builds to nothing more than an ugly assault sequence in which the blandness of this material finally overwhelms whatever eccentricity Woo brings to it. After an excruciatingly drawn-out hour that would unfold at the pace of an advent calendar even without the useless subplot about a local detective… Silent Night finally arrives at its much-anticipated payoff only to bust out a gun-fu stairway brawl so basic it feels like a pre-viz rough draft of the Atomic Blonde scene it’s copying.

Bill Goodykoontz, Doesn’t make much noise or much sense”

If you have ever watched a bone-crunching action film and thought, you know, this thing is so stupid you could watch it without dialogue, John Woo has made the movie for you.

Alex Harrison, Messy, guilty fun”

I have to admit, I feel a little guilty about liking Silent Night. I’ve often found it rewarding to think too hard about films that don’t actively invite it, but some that felt solid can crumble under the extra pressure in retrospect, something I usually take into account in a review. In this case, for whatever reason, no amount of clarity about its hollowness has put a dent in my enjoyment.

Kristy Puchko, A major misfire”

In the end, Silent Night is only shocking in how dull it manages to be. By taking the silly premise of dodging dialogue to absurd ends with an absolutely straight face, the film burns out its audience goodwill early on. There’s no action past the opening that makes it worth hanging around with Godlock, who himself feels a pale imitation of countless other raging dads (like John Travolta/Nic Cage’s in Face/Off). And the determinedly stern tone not only makes the movie achingly one-note but also a frustrating waste of time. If you’ve seen one revenge thriller, you’ve basically seen this one.

Frank Scheck, The veteran action director fully delivers the goods”

Action fans will appreciate Woo’s mastery, which is fully on display here in a series of car chases, shootouts and car chase/shootouts. Despite an obviously low budget, the kinetic sequences are superbly orchestrated and filmed, featuring the occasional doses of slow-motion that are the director’s trademark.

Nadine Whitney, An audacious, messy, tightly choreographed action flick”

Silent Night is Woo condensed into a fairly uncomplicated package. Is it his greatest work? Not even close. Is it his worst? Absolutely not. No matter which way you slice it, and it can go either way, Woo is a seminal action director who in his seventies can still pull out a banger even if it’s not entirely coherent.

Silent Night arrives in theaters on December 1, 2023. Watch the trailer below.

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