"I take orders from the Octoboss."

Silent Night (2023)

I don’t need to tell any of you that one of the all time great directors, John Woo, has returned to our screens. If you didn’t read it or hear it, you could probly sense it. It’s been six years since his last movie (MANHUNT, 2017) and twenty since his last American movie (PAYCHECK, 2003), so it’s an event. It’s also a Christmas-set action movie, which I always appreciate, and it has a gimmicky storytelling conceit (no dialogue) that makes it a fun formal challenge for the grandmaster.

It is not, however, a poetic story of brotherhood like A BETTER TOMORROW, BULLET IN THE HEAD or THE KILLER, nor an American genre pushed to gorgeous levels of absurdity like HARD TARGET, BLACKJACK or FACE/OFF. Instead it’s a skilled and slightly eccentric but not emotionally complex take on a standard vigilante revenge formula. And there’s another catch, which I will get to soon. We’ll just say it’s more of an interesting film that I’m excited to write about than a great John Woo film. But I got some entertainment from it.

It’s set in the fictional city of Las Palomas, which is in California according to Wikipedia, Texas according to the license plates, but filmed in Mexico City. (Took me a bit to catch the joke – paloma translates to dove or pigeon.) Joel Kinnaman (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO remake, ROBOCOP remake, RUN ALL NIGHT, SUICIDE SQUAD, THE SUICIDE SQUAD) stars as an ordinary husband and father – or at least he was until right before the movie starts with what may be cinema’s most visceral action sequence to ever begin with a hat tip to THE RED BALLOON (1956). We meet him on a sunny December 24th afternoon, wearing a Rudolph sweater and jingle bell, running through back alleys chasing two cars of machine-gun-toting Latino gangsters. He does some damage with a pipe, but gets shot in the throat.

That’s where the silence comes from. He wakes up in the hospital having lost his power of speech. But Woo and/or screenwriter Robert Archer Lynn (writer/director of several thrillers I hadn’t heard of, all released in 2007) are so dedicated to the gimmick that we don’t even see him (or anyone) talk in the opening or the flashbacks. The rules are we can hear voices over a radio, there can be an occasional under-the-breath “hi” or “hey,” and one guy gets a muffled “FUCK YOU!” through a gag, but nobody ever talks to each other. So I had no idea our protagonist’s name was “Brian Godluck” until the end, and I’m still getting used to it. I would’ve called him Jake Cringell or something.

We can soon piece together that he was chasing those guys after they had a gunfight past his house and one of their thousands of stray bullets killed his little son in the front yard. The necessities of non-verbal storytelling and/or poetic cinema lead to some odd choices from Brian’s wife Saya (Catalina Sandino Moreno, MARIA FULL OF GRACE). I kinda think she should’ve removed the deflated soccer ball (also slain in the incident) from the lawn before bringing him home, and she really shouldn’t have left a newspaper article about the shooting on the table. What the fuck, lady.

Otherwise she’s one of the only reasonable people in the movie. As she tries to support him in his physical and psychological recovery, he refuses to let her in. This is, after all, the guy who left her holding their dead son in her hands so he could go fight some guys. Now he spends all his time in the garage, which has become the Sitting and Brooding Under a Beam of Light While Drinking a Glass of Whisky Room. He leaves the door open, but with his back to it, and the marriage has cooled so much she won’t come inside when she needs to ask him something, she just texts.

Like so many couples who lose a child, they split up. When Saya decides she has to leave Brian doesn’t go after her to try to work things out, he takes the opportunity to live out the ultimate divorced dude fantasy. If only my wife would leave me I’d have enough time to concentrate on my true passions: doing pull-ups and weightlifting in the garage, becoming a self-trained sharpshooting and precision driving expert, learning knife fighting from goons on Youtube, and planning and executing a one man war against cartoonishly evil Mexican tattoo enthusiasts.

What’s kind of cool about this gimmick combined with this topic is that you don’t always know where the training montage ends and the rest of the movie begins. They are one and the same. They are brothers. (None of the actual characters become brothers, so you gotta get that John Woo shit somewhere.)

Brian’s approach is brazen. He goes to the police station, walks right into a detective’s unoccupied office, takes pictures of all the gangster mugshots on his wall, and makes it his goal to murder them all on Christmas Eve. The leader and guy who shot him is named Playa (Harold Torres, SIN NOMBRE), recognizable by the thorn tattoos covering half of his face and bald head. Brian listens to the police radio, goes to the site of crimes to find his prey, surveils them, abducts a bagman (ex-boxer, current stuntman Vinny O’Brien) and forces him to fill out a detailed survey about Playa’s criminal operations. That was one of my favorite scenes because the guy finds himself tied up in what is clearly just some random dude’s garage, but with photos of his associates covering the wall, he sees the dude standing there silently, wearing a welding mask like some horror movie villain. A serious “oh shit, this guy is fuckin out of his mind, and I am completely screwed” moment.

I enjoyed Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi (X) as the police detective who gets wrapped up in the whole thing. Woo’s daughter Angeles, one of the stars of MANHUNT, also shows up as a less lucky cop.

The critic Siddhant Adlakha compared SILENT NIGHT to “a bad Punisher fan film.” The Punisher part is right, though it’s better made than a fan film. I personally like it way better than that popular Bootleg Universe short with Thomas Jane. It has the same bleak sadism and racial stereotyping but at least it has some flair. I don’t find any fault with the craft of the film, but I do have issues with its soul. It feels a little too close to that Punisher in the minds of the abusive cops and war criminals who wear his symbol. Which is to say that if you’re one of those people who gets mad whenever I respect the action genre enough to consider its politics worth discussing, you’ve been warned. That’s about to happen.

SILENT NIGHT joins RAMBO: LAST BLOOD, SICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO and PEPPERMINT in the category of modern American action movies depicting white Americans having their lives and families threatened by psychotic Mexican gangs. And like with all of those movies I feel a duty to both assess it on its own merits and acknowledge the context it was knowingly released into. The former is because I love action movies and the latter is because I’m not a shallow nitwit. Like the other ones, this was made and marketed at a time when a large chunk of our country are under the spell of an idiotic anti-immigrant movement that demonizes Mexicans and convinces people that the MS-13 gang is in their neighborhood and likely to murder them. My international readers don’t need to care about that but if you’re in America and you haven’t noticed it or connected it with the movies capitalizing on it, I don’t know what to tell you.

Woo did live in the U.S. for more than a decade, but he’s spent most of his life in Hong Kong, so I don’t expect him to look at it in the same way. Furthermore, I have the advantage of being able to watch my favorite Woo movies like HARD BOILED completely unbothered by what they may be saying about Hong Kong at that time. But with this one I don’t have that luxury. That’s the breaks.

SILENT NIGHT is set in a world where the meaning of life is to romp in slow motion with a small, giggling child, but modern living is taking that away from us. The first full sentences we hear in the movie are a talk radio interview discussing inflation, specifically being caused by stimulus checks, as Brian looks out the car window dismayed by the open drug dealing, litter, and worst of all, graffiti that says “FUCK THE POLICE.” Or at least that’s how I read his look in the moment, but in retrospect it probly wasn’t disgust, it was probly agreement. He’s pretty mad at them for not doing what he’s about to do.

Despite that fucking inflation we never see him have to work a job or anything to pay for bills, food, used cars, arsenals, etc. Let me know if it was indicated where he gets his money and I just missed it. I’m sure there were pieces of visual information that flew past me, but the gimmick of telling the story without anyone ever having a conversation does play to one of Woo’s strengths. The visuals do even more heavy lifting than usual and therefore it’s even more up to individual interpretation. And I like to read much of the movie not as another “I get to kill people” wish fulfillment fantasy, but a critique of this desire. Kinnaman certainly doesn’t play the character as reasonable. Check out the crazed look on his face when he sits inside his newly purchased revenge car (above).

There’s a scene where he’s in a department store parking lot and suddenly runs into some of the guys he wants to kill. It’s so weird and dreamlike I thought it was a hallucination at first. One second it’s these big scary guys staring him down, the next they’re on a playground surrounded by happy children. At first I thought they were selling drugs to tiny kids, but actually they’re passing out money, which seems to make Brian very angry, presumably because it will exacerbate inflation.

But he can’t get up the nerve to do anything and then one of the gangsters has a girlfriend who sneers at him and dumps her drink on him. That was a big moment in DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE, too. Is this some right wing grievance I wasn’t aware of? They’re not sending their best, they pour their beverages on us?

You may have noticed Brian had a Latina wife, which is Hollywood code for “this doesn’t count as racist.” But I don’t want to minimize her casting, because Moreno is excellent in the role, and the novelty of having to do it without words makes it seem less thankless than the standard Caring Wife Who Just Can’t Be a Part of This Any Longer. I love how Woo contrasts Brian’s way of grieving with Saya’s. My favorite shot of the movie follows a tear as it rolls down her face and drips off her chin, and it match cuts to a bullet casing hitting the ground at the gun range where Brian is taking murder lessons. Another great juxtaposition is when he gets a suiting up montage, putting on his dumbass leather trenchcoat, bullet proof vest, strapping on a big ass gun and knife and all this shit, and then he goes into his son’s untouched bedroom, where he’s surrounded by dozens of different symbols of innocence while looking like a school shooter or Punisher cosplayer, possibly even realizing what a stupid, pathetic place he’s come to in his life. Then on his way to the psychotic murder spree he swings by Saya’s new place for some brief estranged husband spying, and through the window sees her lovingly drawing a picture of their son. Creating instead of destroying.

I guess he can’t draw though so he’ll just have to end a bunch of lives.

Brian remembers his son by playing a music box that belonged to him. I found this a little amusing because it’s such an on-the-nose symbol and also what child in 2023 has a favorite music box? But it’s such classic John Woo corniness. The cool thing is that Brian leaves it on his dashboard during his homicidal rampage and it gets knocked around, starts sounding warped when it plays, merging with the score by Marco Beltrami (ironically the composer of SCREAM 2, in which a cue from Woo’s BROKEN ARROW became the theme for Dewey against his wishes) and symbolizing how he’s tainting the memory of his kid.

Whether or not you consider it racist, the use of generic Latino gangster stereotypes makes for much duller villains than the Woo standard. They don’t have layers or honor but also they’re just kinda boring. I did enjoy the odd casting of MMA fighter turned stuntman Yoko Hamamura as a guy named “Ruiz.” With the name tattooed on his face and everything. Playa finally becomes interesting in the last act when he’s in his lair with his girlfriend. They have a loft inside a Final Shootout Warehouse, with giant speakers and kaleidoscopic video projectors like a dance club, huge reflective orbs like Christmas ornaments suspended from the ceiling, and a round bed with zebra-striped comforter. He wears a Santa Claus jacket and shoots heroin or what have you into her arm, which seems like villainous behavior, except it’s consensual then they waltz together and look into each other’s eyes with love, not mania.

That’s a real Woo touch, and it made me realize if Playa was more of a Castor Troy villain throughout, or if he went the DEATH SENTENCE route of making the gang more ridiculous and less the specific current boogeyman of the Republican party, then I would’ve had an easier time relaxing and enjoying the cartoon dystopia of Las Palomas. But I’d still have some frustration with the movie because of the way it ends. (SPOILER COMING UP.)

One of the powers of movies is when we can see reflections of our humanity even in characters unlike us. Nobody’s watching THE KILLER approving of Chow Yun Fat’s Ah Jong working as an assassin, but we’re moved by his remorse over injuring Jennie, and the bond he creates with Detective Li. In movies of this type, revenge scenarios are often cathartic and satisfying even though most of us are sane and don’t actually think it’s something to consider in real life. I don’t need a revenge is bad moral here, but I also don’t want a revenge is a good faith effort one. SILENT NIGHT allows Brian to have the last word in the form of a letter to Saya – the only real communication we’ve seen from him other than brief texts and obsessive chicken scratch about his investigation. In his letter he laments the tragic events and says there’s nothing anyone can do about it all, “but I’m willing to die trying.” Obviously I know it’s not gonna be a movie about a guy responding to his son’s death by figuring out how to transform society so that we all take care of each other (and lower inflation). But to me it was a bummer to end on this claim that he’s just a starry eyed idealist doing his humble part to make the world a better place. As far as I could tell Saya didn’t look too horrified by that idea, either.

I guess I just prefer Woo movies where they’re looking toward that better tomorrow. Their world is always ugly but they’re genuinely seeking some kind of redemption or honor inside it, a dove in a bullet-ridden church. This guy’s claiming to, but he’s full of shit.

I always liked Kinnaman but I definitely think he deserves credit for a very dedicated performance here, not just in the non-verbal acting but throwing himself into the action scenes. It’s a raw and rough style of action for Woo, hard hitting though obviously not as voluminous as his Hong Kong classics, and also not exaggerated and graceful like his best American work. (In an interview with Collider he described it as “realistic” as opposed to his “fancy” or “romantic” action.) The stunt coordinator is Jeremy Marinas, whose many great achievements include doubling Sub-Zero in Mortal Kombat: Legacy, playing “Justin Starr” on LXD: Legion of Extraordinary Dancers, doing mocap stunts for TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION, fight choreographing and playing a villain in Scott Adkins’ CLOSE RANGE, doing pre-viz stunts for KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS, and being fight coordinator for this year’s best film, JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4. Unsurprisingly he did a good job.

I’m grateful to be back in the Woo Zone, but it’s a little dark in here. I hope to be back some day soon after somebody lights a bunch of candles.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 5th, 2023 at 7:30 am and is filed under Reviews, Action. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

34 Responses to “Silent Night (2023)”

  1. The inflation stuff was gold.

  2. I really wanted to love this one and I was left with “it’s okay”. As soon as it became clear people who should and would be talking weren’t going to and the world was this nearly ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK hellscape where gangs run rampant and the police are helpless because people do things like spray paint mean things about them I thought, “oh no, this isn’t going to be for me.” I’m not saying it’s bad and there are definitely things about it I liked – Kinnaman’s performance, the action – I just couldn’t let go of the things that bugged me.

    People talk. I’m sorry, they just do and it made no sense when they didn’t. The guy wheeling him out of the hospital is going to say, “Be careful. Watch yourself getting in the car.” The guy selling him his murder car is going to say, “Thanks man. Take it easy.” The woman whose child he was clutching to his breast and having an obvious emotional breakdown is going to say, “Hey! What the hell dude!” I admire Woo’s desire to do a movie with no dialogue. I just don’t think it worked. Have him be silent – it still would’ve been the majority of the movie but the others, nah. A movie where it worked fantastically was NO ONE WILL SAVE YOU because it made sense.

  3. Interesting, I have heard this one being compared to BULLET IN THE HEAD which I think is one of Woo’s more personal & underrated films but it sounds like only the bleak tone is similar. BITH is poetic even if it’s heart breaking.

  4. Well, that’s a bummer. I was planning to make a special trip into a neighboring city to see this next week but if Vern, who can generally come up with nice things to say about just about any movie, can’t come up with more than a few vague lines of backhanded praise, I might have to give it a pass. I kept expecting the review to at least compliment the action scenes but it seems like those are nothing special either. What a disappointment.

  5. Holy shit I did not get the Palomas reference. So this isn’t the first Woo movie with no doves after all.

    Perhaps this movie tanking (no thanks to the lackluster marketing) means Woo returns to Hong Kong, but he still has his The Killer remake to finish.

  6. I haven’t seen this (seems it’s going direct to streaming in the UK a couple of days before Christmas) but it strikes me as strange that they’ve come up with an explanation for why it’s a dialogue-free film, but it’s an explanation that only explains why one character doesn’t talk, and even then it doesn’t apply through the whole film. Maybe that’s part of what’s meant to make the film amusing or cute or “Simpson/Bruckheimian high concept” or whatever, or perhaps it’s meant to represent us “seeing things from the perspective of the protagonist” or something, but hearing about it, it kind of sounds like the kind of Executive compromise that would have been made c.30 years ago. You can just make a dialogue-free action movie. Which, as it happens, is actually something I’ve wanted for quite some time, so I will watch this, even if it’s compromised and/or mediocre.

    Some 15 years ago there, and by “some 15 years ago” I mean actually 17, there was a dialogue free episode of the Stephen King anthology series NIGHTMARES & DREAMSCAPES called Battleground, directed by Brian Henson and starring William Hurt. I remember it being decent; it felt somewhat inspired by the famous dialogue-free opening to the original THE MECHANIC.

  7. Kinnaman’s character should’ve been called Brian Godrestyemerrygentlemen

  8. I’m not sure it counts as a full on action movie, as it suffers from some of the limitations of a first feature, but Luc Besson’s LE DERNIER COMBAT seems to have a plausible, if post-apocalyptic, reason for the characters not talking. The only words spoken, an exchange of greetings – Bonjour – is arguably the emotional highpoint of the movie. LE DERNIER COMBAT is 40 years old this year, and Vern reviewed it 8 years ago:

    While it’s sensible to question the direction of Besson’s gaze these days, and the plot of LE DERNIER COMBAT does focus somewhat on the acquisition of a female mate, it is Jean Reno’s debut as the sad, hulking Brute, and the power of that exchange that stick in my mind.

  9. Mention of Besson gives me an excuse to crowbar in a recent discovery which has fascinated me, and may fascinate anywhere from 1 to 2 others; he’s written and produced a horror spin-off/meta-sequel to his kids’ film series ARTHUR AND THE MINIMOYS series (based on a series of kids’ books he also wrote), a sort of LUC BESSON’S NEW MINIMOYS about a teenage superfan of the original films (sure, Luc) who goes with his friends to the house from the original film (I guess they were part live action?) but then they get attacked by character from the previously whimsical world or something.

    The French may or may not have finally found a word for entrepreneur but for sure do not seem to have yet found a word for “cancelled”, so it’s not terribly surprising Besson is still able to work there, but the production has also brought some further controversy to him (to whit allegations of unpaid work and plagiarism).


  10. As Pacman says, it’s been basically stolen by a streaming service here in the UK. Funny how boneheaded corporate distribution decisions can kill enthusiasm for a movie even before a lukewarm review.
    Oh well, at least we’re getting a new Ghibli to go watch on the big screen.

  11. Kinnaman’s character should’ve been called Brian Godrestyemerrygentlemen

  12. Aaaah…..well, I’ll watch it anyway because I simply cannot NOT check out a Woo flick, but I guess SILENT NIGHT doesn’t get to knock FACE/OFF from it’s perch as the best one in Woo’s American Filmography.

    While the gimmick of a dialogue free action movie (on a side note, have no issues with gimmicks, it’s like accepting a “Whole Movie Is A Single Take” premise when there are cuts, just done cleverly and strategically) on the face of it is brilliant because it lets Woo’s stellar eye for action do the “talking”, it’s also an impediment to Woo’s other Signature: the heightened melodrama of his best Heroic Bloodshed flicks, which simply needs dialogue…like Tequila singing a lullaby to a baby in the midst of a bloody hospital shoot out in HARD BOILED, and then calling him a “little pisspot” when the little tyke urinates on his burning pants, putting out the fire. Or Cage’s (as Travolta) teary reunion with his wife, talking about their first date.

  13. And let me not be an Ungrateful Shit. It’s 2023, and we’re still getting a bloody action movie from a 77 year old John Woo and a lavish historical epic from an 86 year old Ridley Scott. And next year, we’ll be blessed with a Mad Max-ian actioner from George Miller, a year shy of his 80th birthday. Not to mention Young Punk Eastwood currently in the director’s chair for his next movie, at the tender age of 95.

    God Bless ‘Em.

  14. I think you all know this but I recommend everybody see it despite my criticisms. Some people seem to really like it, some interpret it very differently from me, and it is definitely interesting for any Woo or action fan.

  15. Hi, I’m one of those people that liked the movie. I think Joel Kinnaman is really good in this movie. There is a great fight scene midway through. The car chases stuff was really well down. The sound design is awesome, especially in a theater. I like that he wanted to make it more grounded in reality but still has that only Woo would do realistic this way . It also still has the heart on it’s sleave corniess that Woo puts into all of his movies. I think Catalina Sandino Moreno does a really good job in the film. Them not talking felt pretty realistic to me, tbh. For the lack of shooting days and smaller budget, it’s much better than most Indie action movies. It’s not perfect but it’s not the bda movie some people want you to believe.

    Also, I feel bad for John because he’s not allowed to make something that speaks to him and he can only make movies as good as Hard Boiled or Face/Off and if it’s not the go to response is “well he’s done” or “maybe he was never good to begin with” Fuck all that.

  16. I think that pull up bar he installs in his garage is the handle bars from his son’s bike.

  17. Agreed, it’s badass and kind of poetic that he uses a physical connection to his dead son to pull him self up & gain strength. It’s a shame the movie seems to gloss over it & it’s not more clear.

  18. Maybe I don’t know how to appreciate this silent storytelling. But I felt like nothing happening in the first 45 minutes of this thing couldn’t have been illustrated on only five minutes, wordless or not. Once it gets going, I was unimpressed by the action and Kinnaman. But what stands out was just how much fidgeting I did in the movie’s first half.

    Also, the electronic train set circling the gravestone at the end. That was just absurd. Would any graveyard actually allow that? Do they change the batteries every day?

  19. I feel like I’m maybe a dullard. But nothing in the first 45 mins of this movie felt like it couldn’t have been handled with five mins of screentime, wordless or otherwise. I was largely unimpressed by Kinnaman and the action in the second half, but my main takeaway was how much I squirmed and fidgeted through the first half.

    Also, that electronic train set eternally circling the kid’s gravestone. Would any graveyard allow that? Do they change the batteries every other day?

  20. Inspector Hammer Boudreaux

    December 6th, 2023 at 11:28 pm

    I liked it a lot. Per Woo’s American output, I’d put it beneath Face/Off and in an apples/oranges situation with Hard Target. This is like Woo’s UNFORGIVEN if Woo’s UNFORGIVEN were a bit half-assed. Which this is. Woo doesn’t have the power to get shit produced like Eastwood, ofc.

    I’ve often thought of Woo as my second favorite pure action director, after Sam Peckinpah. The difference being that while both professed to abhor violence- Wu as a Christian, Peckinpah as a guy permanently horrified by everything- Peckinpah made violence looks thrilling and compulsive but also grim and repulsive. Whereas HARD BOILED, one of my favorite movies, makes me think gunfights are fun and sexy and cool.

    I feel that he really overcame that problem here. This has to have the highest proportion of knife fighting in a Woo movie, and knives are more primal and horror-y. I mean, no it’s not as fun, but Woo’s an old man, did you expect an ode to heroic bloodshed? Of course it’s gonna be dour.

    I hear you on the depiction of Mexicans, and I’m half-Russian. Also tattooed people. Not only are the gangbangers tatted the fuck up, IRL actor Joel Kinnaman has many which were wiped for the topless training scenes.

    What I’m saying, all in all, is that give it ten years and a revisit and I think you’ll like this one a lot more.

    *PS I’m ambivalent about the fact that the whole Xmas tie in is pretty obviously a commercial gambit to be the next DIE HARD. I bet the script wasn’t written with the murderversary being Dec 24th and some wit in marketing came up with that.

  21. I don’t know, I think it’s disingenuous to praise and defend media with leftwing political themes, but on the rare occasion something comes out with a rightwing theme (even as mild as “Hispanic gangbangers committing violent crimes is bad”), suddenly you’re asking for it to be politically neutral and just entertain you. I mean, you’re going to tell me this plotline is really that different than Equalizer 3, aside from the race of the bad guys? I would even say this has a more pronounced anti-vigilantism stance than Equalizer, since Joel Kinnaman ends up getting innocent people killed and participating in the same kind of public shootout that killed his son, while Denzel ends up fixing everything with violence and gets to enjoy an awesome retirement.

    Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?

    Well, it takes too long in the ramping up (just when dude starts to rampage, it’s time to miss his son EVEN MORE) and I thought the initial ‘Road Warrior’ action stuff was a bit weak. I prefer Doves and Guns Akimbo Woo to Taylor Sheridan Woo, though obviously I’m not going to slight the guy for going in a direction he feels suits the material. It’s still a damn sight better than the shakycam approach that, God, so many directors would take with this. Kid Cudi might be doing a good job, I don’t know–his character is so underwritten that his moment of brotherhood with Brian Godlock feels unearned, like it just happens because this is a John Woo movie. Overall, it’s kind of awkwardly hedged between Death Wish “what if a real guy went vigilante?” and Death Wish sequel “what if CHARLES BRONSON went vigilante?” You can tell Woo thinks BRIAN GODLOCK would be better off keeping his crucifix necklace on and spending time with his wife–but that he feels it’s more or less supercool that he kills a bunch of people with shotguns instead. But there’s been a lot of fun art living in that gray area (“It’s awful that Michael Myers is killing people… but this one guy is a jerk, so we’ll give the Shape a hedge trimmer to really sort him out!”)

    I did like that this is the throwback to Golden Age action that the Expendables has been trying to be for four movies and never managed. We get a training montage, a lock & load montage, a main character with an over-the-top badass name and a cool leather outfit, a tricked out car, a secret headquarters–all the meat and potatoes stuff you never miss until you realize how long it’s been since anyone’s bothered with it.

  22. Kaplan, I never said “keep your politics out of my entertainment.” I said I didn’t like these specific parts for these specific reasons. And I’m not sure conservatives would like equating racist stereotypes with conservatism but I’ll let them speak to that.

  23. For one thing, I find the murderous vigilantism of this and Equalizer on an equally thoughtless level.

    Secondly, the constant influx of one dimensional Mexican gangbangers used as Hollywood cannon fodder really comes into focus when you look at the demographics and realize how many American moviegoers are actually Mexican. Mexican Americans LOVE movies, to a weirdly disproportionate extent. Maybe just do better by one of your biggest demographics. Shouldn’t take a lot.

  24. Just want to shout out to you Pacman 2.0 for that Battleground reference. It’s always been one of my favourite Stephen King short stories and I never knew they had made an episode about it. I found it on youtube and it was quite fun! Thanks!

  25. I was just alerted that this is currently on your favorite streaming service, so let me take a second to remind everyone that this movie absolutely KICKS ASS. I liked it walking out of the theater (quite a bit), and in the past month it’s only grown in my noggin. It’s seriously great.

  26. Awesome!


    Like POINT BLANK (1967) it will need a few decades for people to realize.

  27. This one is not without its high points but overall it is extremely not good. You start to realize maybe five minutes in that the only reason this story could be told entirely visually is because every single second of it is so trite, so obvious, so generic, that we can easily fill in the missing dialogue ourselves. We don’t need to hear the sympathetic but ineffectual cop say “We’re doing everything we can” because we’ve heard it said a million times before. We don’t need to hear the long-suffering wife say “This won’t bring our son back!” or hear the villain yell “What do you mean you can’t stop him? He’s one man!” Every single beat of this thing is the most tired cliche imaginable so there’s no need to spell anything out. We get it. We got it a hundred movies ago. Woo is a strong visual storyteller, but I feel any old hack could tell THIS story visually. You know everything that’s going to happen before it happens. It’s not like there’s any kind of complex plot or character dynamics to get across. It’s all the exact same shit. We get TWO symbolic toys, for Christ’s sake. I can’t even get upset about the reactionary fear-mongering with the Mexican gangs because they’re as unconsidered and secondhand as everything else in the movie. The Revenge Movie Mad Lib had a blank that said SCARY ETHNIC BAD GUYS and they went with the first thing that came to mind. They’re not saying anything about Mexicans. Fittingly for a movie without dialogue, they’re not saying anything at all.

    The action is decent, though, and the only thing that makes the film watchable. These set-pieces are nothing special compared to the cream of today’s crop, but Woo can still pull off a fanciful flourish or gruesome grace note. Give him a story to tell and not a readymade movie module to assemble and he may still have a classic or two left in him.

  28. Correction: THREE symbolic toys. I forgot about the tricycle.

    Four if you count the balloon.

  29. I loved this. That is, once I self-calibrated to not expect something as goofy and deliriously entertaining as HARD TARGET or BROKEN ARROW or it even approaching anything close to the magnificent FACE/OFF. I went in expecting it to be on par with a PAYCHECK, but this worked better. This is Woo at his most grim and nihilistic. I’ve always thought of Woo’s movies as violent operas where every emotional beat is hyper-cranked up to melodramatic extremes even as his action is hyper-stylized, so everything worked, even when you’re aware it’s absurd. And given that there is NO John Wick without a John Woo, it was nice to see him eschew a hero who’s an absolute bad-ass at death dealing and instead give us one who’s still working his way up a steep learning curve. He gets his ass handed to him frequently (loved the first fight in his house where he thinks he has the upper hand on the Gangster he captured, only to be painfully reminded otherwise).

    Loved the action which is far more brutal and grounded. After all, every film-maker and his second cousin’s ripped off Woo’s signature flourishes so I’m glad the Master himself felt he best scale back on the slo-mo, 2 handed gun play and decided to give the white doves a day off.

  30. He struggles a little in his first fight (but not nearly enough, considering I bet fighting actual humans who desperately want to kill you is a LITTLE different than throwing around waifu pillows in your garage) but then manages to bullseye every single shot he takes after that, many of them from a moving car, despite never showing him shoot anything except a paper target. Woo spends like an hour of the movie on the training montage and the transformation is still not the slighest bit believable. He’d have been dead a hundred times in that stairwell fight if the henchmen actually came out shooting instead of standing there framed in doorways for like five seconds. Would it have been too much to see him training with a sparring partner or doing some of that 3-gun course training we saw Keanu doing? Even playing paintball would teach him more about tactics than we see him learning here. This movie’s attitude toward combat-training is barely a step above the old “I can fly a fighter jet because I play video games” trope. Saying you can become a one-man army without ever leaving your basement is like saying you can get good at sex by masturbating a whole bunch.

    I don’t blame Woo. He directed the hell out of a really shitty script. I just wish he’d put all this effort into a movie worth making.

  31. I think there was an Antonio Banderas revenge flick that had a training montage like this.

  32. I think that’s ACTS OF VENGEANCE, the one he did with Isaac Florentine

  33. Yeah, but Antonio had the decency to learn to fight by joining an underground fighting ring. He didn’t just punch a dummy in his basement like a small child beating up his stuffed animals and pretending he’s a wrestler.

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