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Action Speaks Louder Than Words In John Woo’s ‘Silent Night’

December 1, 20235 Mins Read

Silent Night, director John Woo’s first Hollywood movie in 20 years will leave audiences as speechless as the action thriller’s main cast.

Joel Kinnaman plays grieving father Brian Godluck who is out for revenge after his young son was tragically killed after getting caught in the crossfire of two rival gangs on Christmas Eve. That night, when the father tried to chase the culprits, he instead found himself left for dead in an alley after being shot in the throat. However, a now voiceless Godluck recovers from the potentially fatal injury and he sets about avenging his child’s death and the loss of all he once held dear. The movie, exclusively in movie theaters now, is almost entirely free of spoken dialogue.

“As a filmmaker, every one of my movies is an experiment,” the legendary filmmaker explained. “I think Silent Night is a new kind of experiment for me because I had to find a way to using purely visuals to tell a story. I had to let the audience try to work out and understand what’s going on and how to feel.”

“We had to use very specific and carefully planned techniques to do that. In the meantime, the great challenge remains with regards to how to make your audience get involved with the character and understand what you’re trying to say.”

Helming the dialogue-free Silent Night pushed Woo, the genius behind such classics as Face/Off, Hard Boiled, and Hard Target, out of his comfort zone. That’s pretty impressive for a man of his talents and experience.

“I had to fully rely on my instinct. I shot everything based on my own feeling but I still looked at it as a normal drama,” he recalled. “I didn’t feel if I did something wrong, it could be a disaster. I couldn’t worry about that because I know my technique and believe I’m a good visual storyteller. I also trusted the actors. I was so glad to be working with Joel Kinnaman, Scott Mescudi, Harold Torres and Catalina Sandino Moreno because they were so quick to get what we were doing.”

“Before we started shooting, I talked to them and explained that because there was no dialogue, the really important thing was that they used their eyes and facial expressions, and they had total freedom to express what you wanted. The audience needed to know what they were saying in their faces instead of using dialogue.”

It wouldn’t be unreasonable to wonder what a script looks like for a film with no words for the cast to utter. The reality was something that somewhat surprised the director himself.

“What was interesting was that it was quite like a normal script, it was over 100 pages long, but there was a lot more detail and descriptions,” Woo explained. “Even though there were was no words for the actors, the writer put some key dialogue in the descriptions as a guide as opposed to “You should be saying something like this.” It was just a lot of key information.”

Woo was grateful for having a cast who understood his Silent Night vision, saying he shot everything the same way he usually would, but he found himself doing a lot more explaining. However, there was one significant difference in how he usually operates.

“We didn’t have much of a budget or time so I had to change my usual style. With a big movie you can shoot different angles and cover shots but we didn’t have that luxury,” he revealed. “We had to shoot everything smartly and did most things in one shot or maybe two takes but it was almost never more than that.”

While there are very few spoken words in the film, none coming from mouths of the main cast and what there is gets largely consigned to the background for atmosphere, there was initially going to be even less.

“Originally, we thought we didn’t really need any dialogue or sound in the film,” Woo recalled. “Our marketing people, especially with the foreign market, thought we needed to put some in even if it was voices on a radio. They were so afraid that the foreign audience might not get the movie so we had to add the addition sound.”

Because Silent Night is an action movie set around the holidays, comparisons will be drawn with classics such as Die Hard and Lethal Weapon or even The Long Kiss Goodnight and Invasion USA, Woo didn’t look to those films for inspiration. Also, one major difference is that none of the others were released in theaters during the holidays.

“I didn’t really take much influences from any other film but I do love Die Hard and Lethal Weapon; they’re great movies,” he enthused. “I appreciate that we’re in a time of year when people need happiness and they want to see something makes them feel excited so our movie releasing at Christmas offers a great communal experience. I think it’s a great decision.”

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