Thursday, November 30, 2023

A grim helping of John Woo action


Director John Woo returns to Hollywood action with Silent Night, a movie that evokes memories of Woo's work during his bullet-riddled days of Hong Kong action, not to mention Hollywood efforts such as 1997's Face/Off.  Memories, however, aren't enough to carry Silent Night across the finish line.
   Woo is an undisputed master of action, but in a year when John Wick: Chapter 4 set a high bar for inventive over-the-top  gunplay and fighting, outrageously violent movies have their work cut out for them, Silent Night included.
   The story: Joel Kinnaman plays a father who sinks into despair. How could he not? Kinnaman's Brian lost his young son when rival gangs raced through his neighborhood firing at each other. Brain gave chase and was shot in the throat by a gang leader who left him for dead.
    Brian survives, but a bullet that lodged in his throat damaged his vocal cords, preventing him from speaking and leaving Kinnaman to squeeze all the gloom and despair he can muster   into Brian's expressions.
    Not surprisingly, living with a man who's deeply embittered about his son's murder exhausts Brian's wife (Catalina Sandino Moreno). When she leaves, Brian is free to do what the main characters in such movies do: seek revenge or, if you're more high-minded, a crude form of justice.
  Brian's quest for vengeance, preceded by vigorous training, leads to a major body count and several displays of the violent ingenuity that made Woo famous during his Hong Kong heyday, which is when I became a fan. 
    A sketchy screenplay sets up the movie's vengeful rampage. But after its explosive opening, Silent Night takes too long to reclaim the only reason for its existence: exaggerated action and wild violence that employs a battered red Mustang, knives, and several varieties of firearms. 
     That's Woo, I guess, but a relentlessly grim tone tamps down the movie's kick. Silent Night struck me as more morose than exciting, a genre exercise that lights a fuse, but, unlike Woo's best work, doesn't blow us away.

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