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‘Silent Night’ (Blu-ray review)

Lionsgate

John Woo’s latest brings to mind Norma Desmond’s immortal lines:

“There once was a time in this business when I had the eyes of the whole world! But that wasn’t good enough for them, oh no! They had to have the ears of the whole world too. So they opened their big mouths and out came talk. Talk! TALK!”

“Well, you’ll make a rope of words and strangle this business! With a microphone there to catch the last gurgles, and Technicolor to photograph the red, swollen tongues!”

Not a great fan of the Billy Wilder film (much prefer In a Lonely Place, yet another insider Hollywood noir that came out the same year), but Norma had a point: movies were great till sound came along (let’s not even talk about color, and as for digital– oy!).

Give it to John Woo then to come up with (or be attached to) the alleged script of Silent Night: Brian Godlock (Joel Kinnaman) grieves for his lost son, a victim of a New Mexico drive-by shooting; he himself while giving the killers chase is shot in the back and throat, losing his voice in the process. Gimmicky premise, but neatly dispenses with the need for any dialogue whatsoever.

The results are pure Woo: a long montage of Brian falling into despair, picking himself up, training; a middle act of Brian doing reconnaissance and early interrogation of one gang member (which entertainingly goes awry); a series of fenderbending car chases and bone crunching hand-to-hand combat sequences and endless firefights follow.

I remember a tagline to Woo’s classic The Killer: “One vicious hitman. One relentless cop. Ten thousand bullets.” Woo likes to cut to the chase, and in this case thanks to a Hollywood budget that I assume is a touch larger than his Hong Kong efforts (the numbers aren’t posted anywhere, but I’m guesstimating) I’d say here he exceeded that count by a few hundred rounds.

Well not quite pure Woo.

Woo is quoted as saying he wanted to film in a ‘more realistic manner’ which I take it isn’t so much to have actual convincing gun battles or fistfights but that Brian starts out totally clueless about mixed martial arts and weaponry; he gives himself a year to train, and the limits of this extended session of autodidactism is apparent (most bruisingly against Yoko Hamamura as one of the gang’s more formidable soldiers).

Also Brian feels many of the blows and wounds inflicted on him– doesn’t quite shrug it off the way Chow Yun Fat did in Hard Boiled, though to be fair the hero being hurt or mutilated in some way is a classic trope of Hong Kong action cinema, particularly the films of Chang Cheh, to which Woo owes a huge debt.

One Woo-ism I do regret is the sticky sentimentality shown when regarding family or the fairer sex.

I get it that Brian loved his son, but the endless mourning and worshipping and hair-ripping on the child’s altar got old by the first half hour (Godzilla Minus One did a better job of depicting this kind of grief and survivor’s guilt– but the movie had an actual script). Brian’s wife Saya (Catalina Sandino Moreno) is more subtly rendered– she’s strong for him till she isn’t able to be, and their eventual parting is nicely wordless– but she’s still a cipher.

More serious is the lack of what I like to call unconscious homoeroticism– Woo (taking his cue from Chang Cheh, who was an influence and gay) excels at intense male bonding, and there’s little chance for Brian to emotionally connect with either his putative ally (Det. Vassel, played by Scott Mescudi), or declared adversary Playa (Harold Torres). Again the advantages of dialogue, which nicely sketched the playful and not a little sexy byplay between hero (John Travolta) and villain (Nicholas Cage) in arguably Woo’s best Hollywood effort Face/Off.

Extras are light including only an EPK and trailer.

But if we lost the gay subtext we do have this, a nonstop kinetic exercise in violence, the best part of which is being set during the Yuletide season, with holiday lights blinking to the roar of high-calibre ordnance.

Tis the season indeed and nothing warms the cockles of my poor excuse of a heart more than a Christmas movie with a high body count.

 

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