Unleashed (2005)

DVD Cover (Rogue Pictures)
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In Glasgow, Danny is a young specialist in martial arts raised like a dog by his owner, the gangster and collector Bart. When Bart unleashes his collar, Danny behaves like a savage animal, hurting and killing people as commanded by Bart. After an accident, the wounded Danny is lodged by the blind tuner of piano Sam and his stepdaughter Victoria. They welcome him in the breast of their family, humanizing Danny, who feels attracted by music. But his past haunts him. --IMDb
Review by bluemeanie
Added: June 15, 2005
When it comes to the combination of action and substance, no one rules the genre quite like Luc Besson. Since "La Femme Nikita", Besson has been wowing audiences worldwide with his ability to blend both heart-stopping action and tear-jerking drama. The highlight of his directing resume would have to be "The Professional", starring Jean Reno as an expert assassin who takes in a small girl, played by Natalie Portman. Though Besson has not directed a film since 1999's "Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc", he has been very busy writing and producing for the big screen. "Unleashed" is his latest cinematic achievement, this time as writer and producer of the film. Not only does "Unleashed" serve as Besson's return to form, but also as one of most astounding achievements as a filmmaker. Director Louis Leterrier deserves a majority of the credit for assembling an incredible cast and crew, but Besson receives more credit for actually coming up with the story, a story so creative and so emotionally stirring, that it probably became that much easier for Leterrier to succeed in bringing the idea to life. "Unleashed" is an action picked, heart stirring drama, a true testament to movie magic, and one of the most engaging cinematic experience of this, or any, year.

We first meet Danny (Jet Li) working for the sinister villain Bart, played with stark ferocity by the Oscar worthy Bob Hoskins. Bart has had Danny since he was a child and has turned him into a dog, working for his amusement and turning all would-be foes into mince meat with his martial arts and animalistic savagery. Danny wears a collar around his neck. Once Bart removes this collar and gives the order, Danny can destroy any number of assailants at a moments notice. However, when an accident leaves Danny to fend for himself, he finds his way into the home of a blind piano tuner named Sam (Morgan Freeman), and his stepdaughter Victoria (Kerry Condon). Sam and Victoria take care of Danny, nurse him back to health, and start showing him the world he has been missing for years and years. Danny's appreciation for the world begins as an appreciation for music. He can remember certain songs and certain notes, but does not know why. Sam and Victoria help him both rediscover his past and make plans for his future. But, when Bart comes calling for his dog, things turn ugly. The remainder of the film revolves around Danny making the decision between the life he had and the life he has, and Bart's unwillingness to let his dog get away. This drama leads up to one of the most incredible sequences of action in motion picture history, leading to the inevitable showdown between Danny and Bart.

There is almost a lyrical nature to this film. The music, the cinematography, and the dialogue -- they all seem like they are pieces of one big cinematic poem. Take, for example, the role of music in the film. The piano literally becomes one of the characters in the film, and all of the characters (with the exception of Bart) seem to have such an appreciation for it. Also consider the way in which violence is used. For Bart, having Danny do his dirty work is the equivalent of making sweet music. Danny, in a sense, is Bart's piano, and Bart can play him as loudly and as frequently as he wants. But, as with any Jet Li film, the action sequences steal the majority of the show. They are, in one word -- 'amazing'. There is an especially jaw-dropping scene between Danny and an attacker in a small urinal, maybe three feet wide. This sequence lasts for a minute or so, and is one of the most spectacularly choreographed fight sequences I have ever seen. And, everything looks so real. When Jet Li gets hit, it looks like he is getting hit, and that is something that most action films fail to attempt to accomplish. Of course, comparing "Unleashed" to a typical action film is like comparing "Schindler's List" to a typical drama -- they are not even in the same ballpark. "Unleashed" has a power and a beauty that is absent from most action pictures, and that comes from the performances, hands down. They make the film.

As Danny, Jet Li delivers the performance of his quite amazing career. He is soft, vulnerable, and innocent; however, this innocence can quickly fade at the removal of the collar. This difference is seen in his eyes. At the beginning of the film, when his collar is removed, he turns into something more than himself -- something predatorial -- something vicious. We can see this transformation on his face. As Sam, Morgan Freeman brings a much needed levity to the film. He is the wise veteran and he has the kind of voice that Sam needs. And, with his recent Oscar win, Freeman shows that choosing the perfect script does not always mean tossing out the action flicks. The standout performance, however, comes from Bob Hoskins as Bart. Here, Hoskins gives us one of the greatest movie villains of recent memory, and certainly one of the most memorable ever. He is nothing short of electric, serving up venom and hatred with every other word. Many reviewers have compared this performance to Ben Kingsley in "Sexy Beast", but I would take that much farther -- I will say that Bob Hoskins in "Unleashed" is one of the top twenty villains in the history of motion pictures. He manages to tap into a side of human nature that was unknown to many of us. When he screams "You're My Dog!" to Danny over and over again, we totally believe him. By the end of the film, we don't even see Bob Hoskins as Bart. He's just Bart.

There is really nothing negative that I can say about "Unleashed". I have tried and tried to think of something, but cannot seem to do so. The performances are stellar, the direction is phenomenal, and the finished product is one of intense beauty. This is not your typical action film. "Unleashed" opened to a mere ten million, falling victim to a new comedy from Will Ferrell and a Jane Fonda comeback vehicle. This is sad. "Unleashed" is easily leaps and bounds better than either of those two films, yet it will probably lag behind the top ten for a couple weeks and then fall off altogether and enjoy a mediocre DVD release. It will be a few years from now when people finally start to appreciate "Unleashed" for the gem that it is. The Academy can change this. To not nominate Bob Hoskins for his role in this film after nominating Ben Kingsley for "Sexy Beast" would be a travesty. Hoskins achieves something that Kingsley could have never even dreamt of achieving -- something primitive and something more than villainous. Think of Strothers Martin in "Cool Hand Luke" or think of Bob Gunton in "The Shawshank Redemption" -- those are the performances most similar to Hoskins in this film. They border on something more...something more than regular acting.

Ginose #1: Ginose - added 09/15/2005, 04:03 PM
A great movie, very violent, but despite what my freind says, there was alot of "wire-fu" in this movie.
Crispy #2: Crispy - added 08/02/2009, 07:57 PM
I wouldn't call it wire-fu so much as exaggerated impacts. I dug this, though I've never thought drama and action could coexist very well. This movie lends some weight to that theory, as it kept switching between long action stretches and drama stretches, which hurt the cohesion a bit for me. Still, good stuff.
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