103 Min. | Action – Crime – Drama | August 2005
IMDB Rating: 7.0
Director: Louis Leterrier
Staring: Jet Li, Bob Hoskins, Morgan Freeman
Unleashed Review: Luc Besson’s signature style is all over the writing of this very fine little film. His ability to push the buttons on the most violent screen business while gradually developing a tale of warm sentiment is well served by director Louis Leterrier and a perfect cast of actors. Unleashed is one of the few examples of how martial arts and bona fide drama can be mutually supportive in creating a film that is at once thrillingly athletic and gently tender. Bart (Bob Hoskins) is a brutish loan shark thug who makes his ‘collections’ accompanied by his ‘dog’ Danny (Jet Li), a silent man Bart has raised form childhood to be a caged killer, a human with a dog collar that when removed unleashes a ferocious beast who kills on command of his master Bart. Bart keeps him in a cage, feeds him, and uses him solely for his criminal doings. Danny unleashed is simply a Pavlovian animal and when the collar is replaced, he becomes docile with the sad eyes of a puppy.
In Unleashed, during a ‘collection’ gone bad, Danny escapes and finds shelter in an antique shop basement where he meets blind piano tuner Sam (Morgan Freeman), a gentle man who gradually introduces Danny to music, trains him as his assistant, and introduces him to his ‘family’ – his step daughter Victoria (Kerry Condon). With the two of these welcoming, tender people Danny discovers how beautiful life can be. The story from this point is how Danny chooses between his Pavlovian response life as a killer and the simple life of Sam and Victoria. The journey is not without stressors and it is a difficult transition that keeps the viewer on seat’s edge.
The wonder of Unleashed lies in the extraordinary performances not usually associated with martial arts films. Jet Li does some of his finest athletic fighting on film, but thankfully at the same time creates a character who is multidimensional and memorable – a very fine acting job by Li. Bob Hoskins is brilliant as the despicably cruel Bart, Morgan Freeman adds a luster to his fine portrayal of blind Sam, and Kerry Condon makes Victoria zany and lovable at the same time. The action is superbly captured by cinematographer Pierre Morel with the aura of darkness in Danny’s caged life serving as a perfect foil to the martial arts sequences. In short, Unleashed is a fine little film about characters worth knowing and provides audiences with both action and drama of a very high level of achievement.