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Overall Rating

Awesome: 19.23%
Worth A Look52.88%
Average: 9.62%
Pretty Bad: 6.73%
Total Crap: 11.54%

9 reviews, 50 user ratings

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by Rob Gonsalves

"Another fine Luc Besson parable about a killer with a soul."
4 stars

At 42, the martial-arts master Jet Li is obviously looking for roles with which he can age gracefully.

He may have found one in Unleashed, in which Li plays Danny, a man-child raised and trained by vicious Glasgow gangster Bart (Bob Hoskins) to turn into a whirlwind of carnage whenever Bart removes Danny's metal collar. (The movie's original title was Danny the Dog, which I sort of prefer.) For the first reel or so, we're treated to some impressively percussive fights, and Jet Li drops the dead-cool persona I've seen in some of his other films. When Danny is uncollared, Li flies into action with an odd mix of sadness and rage not rage at his opponents but at the life he's been forced to accept.

Luc Besson wrote Unleashed, and it harks back to the films that made his name internationally as a director La Femme Nikita (1990) and The Professional (1994). All three movies explore killers with souls assassins who happen to be very good at what they do, but often wish they weren't. Left to his own devices, Danny would be happier listening to music or reading picture books. He's a gentle soul, not unlike an attack dog in his simple view of reality: If the collar comes off, that means someone is threatening the only father figure he has ever known, and that someone must be ground into the dirt. I was reminded of news stories about rottweilers or pit bulls who could have been raised in kindly homes to be mellow pets; instead they were bred to kill, and escaped and mauled the wrong quarry (usually a child).

Before Danny can be warped into a rabid dog who kills indiscriminately, though, fate cuts him some slack. He meets an amiable old blind piano tuner named Sam (Morgan Freeman), who invites Danny to peck out a few notes on some dusty keys. Later, on the run from Bart and his cronies, a wounded Danny shows up at Sam's door. Sam takes him in the whipped dog has found a better master, though Sam isn't interested in being anyone's master. Sam and his gawky stepdaughter Victoria (Kerry Condon), a student pianist in Britain on a scholarship, teach Danny how to be human. It sounds significantly sappier than it is, just as the basic throughline of The Professional (hit man takes orphan girl under his wing) sounds rather moist until you see what Besson does with it.

Unleashed is pretty trim, with no extraneous characters or subplots; there are essentially only four people, and the actors particularly veterans Freeman (he's better in this than in Million Dollar Baby, I thought) and Hoskins (gleefully revisiting his Long Good Friday territory) have room to breathe. Jet Li often has the aspect of a cowed dog here, most poignantly when Bart catches up with Danny and he's forced to resume his role as killer for cash (a shady character has offered Bart big bucks to pit Danny against various combatants). Classical music humanizes him, just as it did with Gary Oldman's otherwise slimy cop in The Professional (both movies take their cue from A Clockwork Orange in that respect music hath charms, and all that). Because the writing and filmmaking (Louis Leterrier, who also filmed Besson's earlier script The Transporter, directed) are focused on this hard-bitten parable without any excess flab, Danny's transition from dog to man feels archetypal or mythical, not manipulative.

Far-fetched? Sure, but that never stopped Besson before. And Jet Li has finally made the anti-violence violent movie he's reportedly always wanted to make there's a brilliant sequence in which Danny must fend off several brutal opponents without killing them, and it displays far more exciting ingenuity than if Danny just went in there and wiped everyone out. (The fights were designed by master choreographer Yuen Wo-Ping, adding yet another gem to his portfolio. The man may be crazy busy these days, but it sure hasn't affected the integrity of his work.)

'Unleashed' will belong on your shelf next to 'Nikita' or 'The Professional' if you're a Besson fan, or next to Jet Li's better Hong Kong films if you're a Jet fan, or even next to 'Long Good Friday' and 'Mona Lisa' if you're a Bob Hoskins fan.

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originally posted: 02/03/07 10:59:02
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/04/21 morris campbell pretty bland 1 stars
7/02/09 Josie Cotton is a goddess Jet Li shows amazing talent as both a fighter and an actor 5 stars
11/01/08 ldavies One of my favorite Jet Li performances 4 stars
8/27/08 Shaun Wallner Awesome storyline! 5 stars
8/15/08 kariboo Jet Li did a wonderful job acting in this movie. He outshined even Morgan Freeman. 5 stars
2/03/07 AJ Muller Good story, great acting, kickass fights. Jet's best USA flick and #2 after Fist of Legend. 5 stars
10/16/06 anitamich Loved it, loved the acting........... I thought the violence and brutality was too heavy 4 stars
9/08/06 drydock54321 you gotta see him fight 4 stars
8/28/06 Kim Anderson Very Good Movie Action 4 stars
4/21/06 Movie Loon I couldn't disagree more with Paul Bryant's Review. I thought unleashed was a good movie 4 stars
4/02/06 Peter De La Rosa Jet can act.Great Cast.Action.Location.Li's best yet. 5 stars
3/17/06 chris f fantastic movie one of the best action movies of all time 5 stars
1/01/06 metalhead I thought it was a great film, I don't know why everyone hates it... 5 stars
12/23/05 Abraham Lincoln Great stuff. I enjoyed the movie, I'm no movie critic, just enjoyed it. :) 5 stars
12/12/05 gray why did this do so poorly? 4 stars
12/05/05 od no more screenplays for Besson to write 1 stars
11/28/05 ELI When Jet Li is the best actor in a movie that's a bad sign. Didn't know Morgan could SUCK 1 stars
11/25/05 CONSTANTINE AWSOME... Totally Bad-ASS Kung-Fu Fightin' Jet Li Film EVER! 5 stars
10/22/05 othree Great cast, action, simple movie that works, score could have been better 4 stars
10/13/05 John It has some nice moments and a good cast but it turns into predicatble fluff 3 stars
10/11/05 CONSTANTINE AWESOME, totally, totally AWESOME... BEST JET LI MOVIE EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
9/04/05 Graham All the entertainment comes from how ridiculous the plot is and wondering how they dreamtit 1 stars
8/27/05 Rever_Bear-Trap BEST JET LI FILM TO DATE! 5 stars
8/11/05 ES A decent movie, you new going in it would be terrible of good, happy to say its a positive 4 stars
7/25/05 Eric Rollins Definitely delivers, no more implausable than the typical martial arts film. 3 stars
6/21/05 Brock Stewart good surprised. The best jet li film 4 stars
6/08/05 Agent Sands Typical Luc Besson fluff, with a wee bit more depth than usual, or ever. 4 stars
6/04/05 Hack-SAW ONE OF THE BEST ACTION FILMS OF 2005... A JET LI CLASSIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
6/03/05 Christy Schultz Gotta love Jet 4 stars
6/03/05 deadwiz One of Jet Li's best films. 4 stars
5/30/05 Joses Sweet ass-kickery. Doesn't need to be seen in theaters, though. 4 stars
5/26/05 ^ZuLu^ Jet Li's by no means a good actor. Others do good. Fighting is like in other movies. 3 stars
5/26/05 Cobretti Laughably bad sentimentality bookended by a ludicrous action story. Someone stop Besson. 2 stars
5/25/05 u4ea666 Awesome, love every jet li movie! 4 stars
5/23/05 Shao Fu Tzer People who didn't like this need mental help. 5 stars
5/19/05 jeff fun movie, good acting. 5 stars
5/18/05 jcjs fun, no brainer, excellent acting Bob, Morgan 4 stars
5/17/05 KingNeutron Liked it, but the ending was a bit strange. 3 stars
5/17/05 Captain Highcrime Yeah, pure popcorn storyline but Jet Li is absolutely adorable 4 stars
5/16/05 Bobbi good story, excellant acting, but paint by numbers plot, but somewhat enjoyable anyway 4 stars
5/15/05 average dude Chris Parry won't suspend his disbelief for action movies with Asian stars. 4 stars
5/15/05 Alberto Very kool, best Jet Li film ever! 5 stars
5/14/05 REDHT Jet Li kicks ass! 4 stars
5/14/05 Jet Li you sucks 5 stars
5/10/05 Josh You all mut be joking--or else you're industry shils. This sucked ass!! 1 stars
5/09/05 Andy Luca It is so cool, everyone should see it 5 stars
5/09/05 Julie Gastonar It is awesome, and show another aspect of martial art 5 stars
5/08/05 STAR LCGAP Unleashed is spectacular 5 stars
5/08/05 David Smith A little be cheesy, But it is a very good one. Li aimed for young audience to teach a lson 5 stars
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  13-May-2005 (R)
  DVD: 11-Oct-2005



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