In a vacuum, “Silent Night” seems like any number of action movies about non-superheroic and (either implicitly or explicitly) paternally-inspired one-man killing machines. Joel Edgerton plays a bereaved father who loses his young son to a stray bullet on Christmas eve, and embarks on a year-long quest to get revenge on the gang members responsible.
There are two twists to the formula. The initial violence also costs our anti-hero his vocal chords. This leaves him mute (yes, making the title a Christmas-themed double entendre) and the film itself almost dialogue-free. Second, it marks the first Hollywood feature film from action god John Woo in 20 years.
“No, actually I have never left,” stated Woo. “I just went to China and made movies.” Between the 2003 Ben Affleck actioner “Paycheck” and the current actioner, Woo plied his trade in his home country. This included a mix of towering period piece epics like “Red Cliff” and gunplay-packed throwbacks like “Manhunt.”
“Silent Night” has its share of gunplay and graphic violence. However, i’s not the kind of soaring, borderline-operatic action fans may be used to. It’s a grim, self-questioning and ultimately tragic picture of a good man driven to bad ends for justifiable reasons. It personifies (at least spiritually) the whole “when you take revenge, dig two graves” mentality.
Woo sat down with TheWrap to discuss whether the lower budget and the smaller-scale template was a choice or circumstance. It’s not like Hollywood is throwing $90 million at star-driven, high-concept real-world action movies like they did in the days of “Broken Arrow” and “Face/Off.”
However, the 77-year-old Woo seems to have relished the chance to make something a little smaller, with more creative control and fewer commercial concessions. He called the picture “my first independent film.”
Even though the budget was tight and they only had 38 days to shoot, Woo felt he had more freedom than with his Hollywood/studio movies.
“I didn’t get notes from anybody,” Woo stated. “I didn’t get any interference, I just worked with a much smaller team. It was like the old days working in Hong Kong with a much smaller number of people.”
Woo had actually been searching for a smaller-scale movie. He felt that he had actually been somewhat typecast as the guy who made exclusively mega-budget spectaculars.
“I got tired of all the big movies since I was established as a big movie director. They never sent me the scripts for lower-budget projects. They always said ‘Oh, it’s too little for you, too small for you.’”
As for what specifically made him look at the ‘Silent Night’ screenplay and go ‘This is the one,’ Woo noted that, along with the smaller, more grounded elements, it felt like a “director’s work.” And yeah, the whole “no dialogue” thing had a unique appeal.
“When I got a script like ‘Silent Night, I was so excited,” Woo said. “I was so excited. The whole script had no dialogue. I said, “No dialogue? It could allow me to use visuals and sound to represent the dialogue and to make the audience more involved with the character.”
While the 1989 flick is perhaps the definitive variation of a stereotypical Woo blow-out, the filmmaker noted that the new version will be a mix of “fantasy action” and something approaching the grounded elements of his most recent picture.
He was impressed enough with Taylor Sheridan’s “Hell or High Water” to try to do a remake. That didn’t happen, but he stated that he’s close to securing funding for a western.
From now on, I would love to work on more independent films. I really enjoy that kind of freedom.”