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Silent Night

“Kill them all.” Brian (Joel Kinneman)

John Woo’s reputation for stylized violence is well deserved if only for his new revenge thriller, Silent Night. His slow motion mixed with a nervously moving camera, piercing closeups, stunning wounds, and imaginative car chases that seem real are just a few of his signature shots. His Cantonese hits like The Killer and Hard Boiled established him as an auteur of blood violence par excellence. That he is not reluctant to be sentimental gives most of his thrillers an extra measure of charm in the presence of mayhem.

Woo’s Hollywood masterpieces like Face /Off and Mission Impossible II remind his devotees how 20 years have not diminished his ability to carry off astonishing stunts and car chases better than Steve McQueen’s. His bird motif, which he has used before with white doves, adds an artistic flare not usual with bloodbaths.

In this new thriller with almost no dialogue (maybe 10 swear words is all I could hear), Woo outstrips Wick and Equalizer for profound anger with a need for revenge propelling Brian ( Joel Kinnaman), shot in the throat by a gang that killed his son (Anthony Giulietti), is now a mute father who has lost his only child to that stray gangland bullet. “Kill them all” he writes on his calendar for the next anniversary, Christmas Eve.

Neither he nor Woo needs words; the silence is bracing and ominous, and I’m a word guy with an insatiable appetite for good dialogue-- not needed here. His pans smoothly bring back a happy family life, sequences that even I welcomed in place of sentimental word tripe too often softening traditional revenge films.

 Woo is smart enough to enlist our sympathy with a child born to melt the audience and a wife/mother (Catalina Sandino Moreno) so engaging and loving as to make the body count (less than Wick but more than Equalizer) seem acceptable and desirable. Words? Not needed.

 Few other revenge films have such a hard-nosed ending as well. Woo courts the dismay of fellow violent filmmakers by engaging our sympathy for the bereaved parents and nothing for any of the villains, even a young woman wielding a machine gun.

 Although David Fincher’s recent The Killer shows how intense-but- minimalist action can be powerful, Woo wins the revenge race with barely a word.

Silent Night

Director: John Woo (The Killer)

Screenplay: Robert Archer Lynn (Deadbox)

Cast: Joel Kinneman ( Suicide Squad), Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace)

Run Time: 103 m

Rating: R

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts NPR’s It’s Movie Time and hosts Cinema Classics as well as podcasts Back Talk and Double Take out of WCBE 90.5 FM. Contact him at


John DeSando holds a BA from Georgetown University and a Ph.D. in English from The University of Arizona. He served several universities as a professor, dean, and academic vice president. He has been producing and broadcasting as a film critic on It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics for more than two decades. DeSando received the Los Angeles Press Club's first-place honors for national entertainment journalism.