Danny (Jet Li) is the trained "attack dog" of Glasgow gangster Bart (Bob Hoskins). Raised from boyhood by Bart and kept on a leash, Danny is unleashed at his master's whim to inflict pain and, where necessary, kill rivals. All Danny remembers of his childhood is the soothing sound of the piano and a chance meeting with blind piano tuner Sam (Morgan Freeman) inspires him to break free of Bart. With the kind care of Sam and his piano student stepdaughter Victoria (Kerry Condon), Danny's memories of his brutal childhood slowly re-emerge. As the pieces in the puzzle fall into place, Bart returns to collect his prized possession.
Review by Louise Keller:
A unique premise by Luc Besson about a man trained as a killer dog, Unleashed offers martial arts star Jet Li a spectacular platform from which to display his talents. Without question, the story requires a leap of faith, but Besson teamed with director
Louis Leterrier makes no comprises. Jet Li's physical prowess coupled with Bob Hoskins' smarmy thug and Morgan Freeman's serene blind piano tuner, are an incongruous combination.
Unleashed is many ways an unlikely combination of action and sentiment. The action scenes are often excessively violent, while the storyline involving Freeman and his pianist daughter are so gentle, they could belong in another movie. When we meet Li's Danny, he is signalled into lethal action, when his owner Bart (Hoskins) removes his metal collar and through clenched teeth growls the words 'get-em'. Danny gets 'em alright through awesomely choreographed action sequences and Li in full flight.
Hoskins and Freeman play characters at the extreme ends of the spectrum. Bart believes in total control: 'if you 'get 'em young, the possibilities are endless.' Sam, although sightless, sees only too well that nurturing and a gentle approach offer far greater opportunities. It's from Sam's trusting stepdaughter Victoria (Kerry Condon) that Danny learns that a kiss is 'wet and nice' and there is etiquette in eating snow white vanilla icecream. White is also ironically, is the colour of Bart's suit, which invariably gets bloodied, ripped and soiled in blasts of gunfire, splashy carflips and violent confrontations.
Together, Hoskins and Freeman have enough gravitas and credibility to smooth over any script flaws, while Li is at his jaw-dropping best unleashed on numerous gladiator-like opponents at once. Necks crack, high kicks jab and punches fly. Impressively. Li has never been so good. In action, that is. The revelatory flash-back scenes when Danny recalls the tragedy of his youth, with a Mozart piano sonata played in the background, are rather far-fetched, but it's the unleashing and daring of Besson's premise that impresses.
Now released on DVD, there's a behind the scenes featurette, an interview with director Louis Leterrir, deleted scenes plus a music video.
Published December 15, 2005
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UNLEASHED: DVD (M)
(France/USA/UK/Hong Kong, 2005)
Aka Danny the Dog
CAST: Jet Li, Morgan Freeman, Bob Hoskins, Kerry Condon, Vincent Regan, Dylan Brown, Tamer Hassan, Michael Jenn
PRODUCER: Luc Besson, Steve Chasman, Jet Li
DIRECTOR: Louis Leterrier
SCRIPT: Luc Besson
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Pierre Morel
EDITOR: Nicolas Trembasiewicz
MUSIC: Massive Attack
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jacques Bufnoir
RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hoyts
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 18, 2005
PRESENTATION: Widescreen; 5.1 Dolby Digital
SPECIAL FEATURES: Behind the Scenes; deleted scenes; director interview; music video
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
DVD RELEASE: Decemer 14, 2005