Dean’s pick of the month

December 2023’s Pick

Where actions scream louder than words: John Woo and Joel Kinnaman produce the thriller of the year with Silent Night.

Imagine you’re an actor inside the world of John Woo (all John Wick films, Mission Impossible III, The Killer, etc.). That you’re the star of that world who has to be in nearly every frame and not speak a single word.


That your performance must rely entirely and solely on making your body, your eyes, your facial expressions do all the talking, and thinking.

How many actors can pull off such a feat while during each and every frame remain completely in character as to convince the audience to totally surrender to suspension of disbelief.

Not even Marlee Matlin’s Oscar winning performance in Children of a Lesser God required such a task. And she’s deaf.

Joel Kinnaman does it from the opening scene to the film’s stunning finale.

John Woo’s signature and brand is a mixture of extreme violence, ethereal musical score, and slow motion closeups. His brand is stamped right on your face the moment the film starts. He’s now the master of this genre.

The premise of Silent Night is similar to the John Wick films. Where John Wick began his rampage because his dog was killed by the villains, Kinnaman’s Brian (Godlock) begins his because his son is killed by a stray bullet from a gun fight by rival gangs with machine guns firing back and forth in muscle cars.

Brian sinks into an alcoholic depression for a few months before he has that moment of clarity for all alcoholics that things must change. Immediately.

It’s a change so dramatic that Brian sacrifices his marriage to begin a training regime for 8 months as he’s picked Christmas Eve to “Kill. Them. All.”

I’ll leave it there for the story line.

What I found most fascinating in Kinnaman’s Brian, is a character who must learn to battle elements completely absent from his past world, and he has to learn them alone as to not garner police suspicion. His physical training includes getting into top shape; learning how to drive a muscle car at high speeds with quick maneuvering; how to shoot a handgun and reload and take it apart in seconds; and how to fight.

It’s the fighting that I found most intriguing. I’ve had the privilege of being in martial arts my entire life learning skills from some of the best coaches in both Texas and Utah. I’ve also had the awful experience of needing such skills in jails and streets where everything changes in a less than a second.

Brian discovers that his 24/7 training for 8 months is alarmingly inadequate against in his first real fight. It’s against a gang leader who doesn’t look like much compared to Brian’s now shredded physique. Sparring, whether it’s boxing or grappling or MMA, etc., is a controlled exercise. Even the best title matches in the ring have referees to do what’s possible to minimize severe injury or death.

When it’s life and death – while training is an excellent survival tool – the mind and body go through an instant shock where it’s either paralysis or reaction. Kinnaman creates a character who must learn the difference immediately or die, and such a process continues with each new violent encounter.

Of course it wouldn’t be John Woo without scenes that go utterly ballistic. But that’s only half the fun in this one as Kinnaman brings you into a world where words are not only useless, they’re gone. When I walked out of the theater I thought about my own life-or-death situations I’ve faced and realized that what it takes to survive is probably different for everyone. I’d never wish such an encounter on anyone. That’s the power of Kinnaman’s creation. He pulls in such emotions with his eyes, his face, his injuries. All of it combined as the physical and mental exhaustion that survival requires. He shows as much vulnerability and fear as much as the will and courage to carry on.

I’m as much a fan of Keanu Reeve’s as anyone. But his range is limited, and he knows it. That’s probably half his charm. Kinnaman has no limit. For thriller lovers this Christmas Season, make sure to deck your halls with this one!

Enjoy my fine readers!


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