Unleashed (***)

Posted on May 2nd, 2005 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

So we knew a little bit about this film from the trailers. They showed the Jet Li character being led around, docile and downcast, wearing a neck collar that, once removed, unleashed him as an ass-whupping juggernaut. Jet Li is lead around by Bob Hoskins, an upper-mid-level loan shark whose method of collection is “pay or the collar comes off”. Danny the Dog (Jet Li) lives in a cage beneath the floor of Hoskins’ office, eats cold canned spaghetti, and cherishes his few childhood talismans that remind him of…something…his childhood, maybe, but he can’t really remember. But something good, that much he knows.

Then one day his boss crosses the wrong people and the car carrying Danny and his boss is riddled with bullets by the enemy. Danny survives and ends up at the doorstep of Morgan Freeman’s character. Freeman is a blind piano tuner with a teenage daugher studying in London. Together the father and daughter show Danny the first real kindness in his memory, and Danny starts to regain his human-ness.

But Danny’s old boss didn’t die in the hail of gunfire, and wants his “pet” back. That’s the general premise of this film, which is equal parts testosterone and estrogen. The fighting and action are top-notch, with most/all of the acrobatic moves at least being possible under the laws of physics, if sometimes improbable (meaning no Matrix/Crouching Tiger fantasy fighting…yay!). But the non-action story is also done very well, bordering on being a tear-jerker.

I think that this amalgamation of styles is one reason for the mixed reviews of this film. The action fans don’t want to get all bogged down in plot, pathos, and character development, and the chick-flick fans don’t want all the violence, killing, and cruelty. But the truth is that the film mixes the right amounts of both into a very interesting final product.

Morgan Freeman is at his most Morgan Freeman-y, which is a good thing, and Jet Li actually seems to belong on screen in the same frames as Freeman, which means his acting has improved considerably in this film. My understanding is that the directly sent Li to acting school for a couple of months prior to filming and let me tell you, it helps.

But the real scene-stealer in this film is Bob Hoskins as the bad guy. He portrays a character who is tough, smart, slick, and even sometimes deep, but ultimately evil. His performance alone would be enough to see the film, but when added to the rest of the story Hoskins makes this a must-see film.

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