John Woo, Joel Kinnaman balance action, tragedy in 'Silent Night'

Joel Kinnaman plays a grieving father out for revenge in "Silent Night." File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
1 of 6 | Joel Kinnaman plays a grieving father out for revenge in "Silent Night." File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 1 (UPI) -- Director John Woo and actor Joel Kinnaman said their action film, Silent Night, in theaters Friday, had to balance tragedy with fights and shootouts. Kinnaman plays a father avenging the death of his son.

"The big challenge of this film was to retain the emotional intensity in every moment, but never having any dialogue that helps you trigger that emotion," Kinnaman told UPI in Los Angeles. "We wanted it to almost feel like in the middle of a fight, he could almost start crying."


Kinnaman's character, Brian Godlock, also was shot in the throat by the same gangsters who killed his son in a crossfire. Having lost his ability to speak, as well as his son, Brian dedicates himself to revenge.

"It's a high-octane, fast-paced action movie," Kinnaman said. "At the center of it, it's also a human tragedy of both the son dying, but then also this man going down this path of revenge and to some degree losing his humanity."


That tragedy also inspired Woo to take a different approach to the action. One trademark of his in films like The Killer and Face/Off is white doves flying through violent scenes, but there are no doves in Silent Night.

"A little kid got murdered by a gangster, so it's very serious and sentimental," Woo said. "So I would like to make the movie more realistic."

Many of Woo's dove-filled films also were tragic. In The Killer, a hitman is atoning for blinding an innocent woman, and Bullet in the Head is about the disintegration of friendships after experiences in Vietnam.

Even Face/Off begins with the villain killing the hero's son. Still, Woo said, Silent Night focused more on Brian's vulnerability, so melodramatic doves would not be appropriate.

"He's just a man," Woo said. "He's not an action star. It made me change everything. So, I'm sorry about the doves."

Throughout the film, Brian silently works out, studies fighting, and trains in weapons and driving. Kinnaman said he approached every physical scene as a dramatic moment so he could convey Brian's intensity.

"If I didn't have that desperation, that deep sadness and rage in my eyes, there's no other way to tell that story," Kinnaman said. "We were always talking about where his emotional level was."


Brian's vengeance takes him to the gangsters' hideout in a four-story building. Woo stages a single take in which Brian climbs all four staircases, taking out gangsters along the way.

"It looks like hell upside down," Woo said. "And the building was so old, it could collapse at any minute. It's very dangerous."

Kinnaman, the stunt team and camera operator rehearsed the entire sequence. Since the production filmed in Mexico City, doubling for Los Angeles, Kinnaman also had to adjust to the climate.

"It's at elevation," Kinnaman said. "I was getting so winded. It was a hectic sequence [and] took a lot of energy."

Woo credited Kinnaman, the camera operator and the stuntmen, who executed the scene to his vision.

"It's very easy to say 'thumbs up' from the bottom," Woo said. "I must say, I really love that shot. Joel and every stuntman deserve credit."

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