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Hallmark Home Entertainment presents
Silent Night (2002)

"War does not stop for holidays."
- the adult Fritz Vincken (Michael Sinelnikoff)

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: December 15, 2003

Stars: Linda Hamilton, Romano Orzari, Al Goulem, Cassian Bopp, Michael Elkin, Matthew Harbour, Mark Anthony Krupa, James McGowan, Martin Neufeld
Director: Rodney Gibbons

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence, brief gore)
Run Time: 01h:29m:40s
Release Date: September 23, 2003
UPC: 707729144472
Genre: holiday

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

When we think of Christmas movies, visions of frothy musicals, sugarcoated dramas, and heartwarming comedies often dance in our heads. Silent Night is none of those, yet despite that fact (or maybe because of it), Rodney Gibbons' made-for-TV film is one of the more memorable and engrossing yuletide yarns of recent years. And though the war-ravaged countryside surrounding the Battle of the Bulge might seem an unlikely locale for a Christmas movie, Silent Night still examines the requisite smorgasbord of traditional holiday themes—compassion, tolerance, brotherhood, selflessness—but does so in a straightforward, unsentimental manner that's both refreshing and affecting. Screenwriter Roger Aylward surreptitiously weaves these mandatory messages into the action, rather than blatantly force-feeding us like most seasonal films. As a result, they resonate that much more.

Based on a true story, Silent Night transpires on a snowy Christmas Eve in 1944 during the waning days of World War II, and chronicles the extraordinary circumstances that befall a young German boy and his brave, resolute mother. Twelve-year-old Fritz (Matthew Harbour) and his mother Elisabeth (Linda Hamilton) are first seen trudging down a snowy country road. Allied shelling in Berlin has forced them to seek refuge in the family's country cabin, despite the rapidly encroaching front line. Fritz looks forward to serving the Fatherland, and anxiously awaits notification of his acceptance into the Hitler Youth. Elisabeth, however, has become disillusioned with the Führer, and hopes to spare her son from the senseless violence and twisted ideals of war.

Not long after they arrive, two American soldiers burst into the cabin with a wounded comrade in tow, and demand shelter and assistance. Elisabeth agrees to help, but while the GIs aid their fallen friend, she confiscates their weapons. She allows the trio to stay, but only if they agree to her terms of disarmament. The same holds true for three lost German soldiers who happen upon the cabin a little while later. They initially try to capture the Americans, but Elisabeth and Jimmy (Romano Orzari), one of the Allied soldiers, trick them into laying down their arms. The group agrees to spend Christmas Eve together, although a thick air of suspicion and thinly veiled disgust hovers over the men.

Yet as the evening wears on, seasonal spirit begins to thaw the frosty relations. Fritz turns a few evergreen branches into a makeshift tree, Elisabeth prepares potato soup, and all the men pool their rations—even sharing treasured bottles of wine—to make a meager, but immensely meaningful, Christmas feast. Over dinner, the soldiers begin to converse, and as they reveal their personal histories and experiences, their seemingly insurmountable differences begin to melt away. Still, outside the cabin, the war rages on, and no one is foolish enough to believe a one-night truce can have any lasting impact. Or can it?

Silent Night doesn't shy away from tense situations, violence, and gore. Once again, not typical elements of Christmas fare, but the backdrop of war and suffering infuses the plot with a sense of urgency that makes the clichéd holiday themes more potent and personal. Disturbing moments are brief and relatively tame (remember, the film originally aired on broadcast TV), but they serve a purpose nonetheless and lend Silent Night a unique poignancy and depth.

As the film's central character and only female, Hamilton plays a pivotal role, negotiating the soldiers' Christmas peace while trying not to betray her Allied sympathies. With quiet strength, Hamilton succeeds brilliantly, expressing her convictions with firm resolve, yet also revealing a softer human side and vulnerability that add intriguing layers to her character. She also handles the German accent quite well; she's no Meryl Streep, but her speech patterns and cadences sound natural and unaffected. The rest of the cast excels as well, filing passionate but not preachy portrayals.

Silent Night doesn't possess the required cheer to make it a yuletide classic, but it remains a warm, suspenseful, inspiring tale that often transcends its seasonal setting. Just as war intensifies emotions and beliefs, this fine drama enhances the meaning and power of Christmas.

If only more holiday films could do the same.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: For a television movie, Silent Night looks terrific on DVD. Clarity is exceptional, and no defects of any kind spoil the presentation. Despite muted colors, the transfer possesses lush warmth, which appropriately adds to the holiday flavor. Contrast and shadow detail are excellent, and fleshtones remain lifelike throughout. This transfer easily surpasses many feature film efforts and earns Hallmark well-deserved kudos.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby stereo track enjoys good presence and occasional depth, but little directionality could be detected. Dialogue is always comprehendible and James Gelfand's music score (which employs several variations of the title carol) comes through nicely.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 10 cues and remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: No holiday goodies here; only chapter stops.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Silent Night is a different but very satisfying Christmas film, a work that relies on adult drama rather than schmaltz to make its points. An exceptional transfer from Hallmark and solid performances make this DVD well worth your time during this, or any, season.


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