Rarely does one find a movie that so seamlessly meshes bone crushing violence with heart stopping beauty, but that is exactly what one finds in Unleashed. Directed by Louis Leterrier (The Transporter,Transporter 2) and written by Luc Besson (Taken, and The Transporter franchise), Unleashed skirted right under the general radar back in May of 2005, raking in only around 10 million it’s opening weekend, and just barely coming to 50 million in its national gross. Those kind of earnings only just managed to pay for the 45 million price tag for making the movie, and certainly did not inspire much buzz. However, often is the diamond looked over amongst the sparkling glass around it. That same weekend Monster-in-Law,Kicking & Screaming grabed the top spots above it, and the cinema waters were also muddied by the releases of Kingdom of Heaven the week before and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith the weekend after. So it is not surprising that Unleashed did not get the recognistion that perhaps it so rightly deserved.

There is little doubt in my mind that the cast alone should have been enough to let the savy movie viewer know that this movie had something special going for it. Featureing such names as Jet Li (Fearless, Hero), Morgan Freeman (Invictus, The Shawshank Redemption), and Bob Hoskins (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Ruby Blue) . These three actors alone command respect from a number of varied genres and their respctive fan bases. However, despite these three shinning stars, not to mention the endearing performance by a young Kerry Condon, who would go on to dazzle HBO viewers in the original serries “Rome”; Unleashed was still over looked as the wonderful work that it is.

Unleashed is the story of a man raised as a dog, an attack dog, complete with leash and kennel. Jet Li plays Danny, a simple young man raised from a child by Bart (Bob Hoskins), a local loan shark, to be one thing and one thing only; an attack dog. “Get them young enough, and the possabilties are endless”, this phrase is used more than once by Bart through out the movie. Bart took the young boy Danny and treated him like a dog, but also trained him to be a killer. And with the release of his collar that is exactly what Danny becomes. A very helpful tool to have for someone who collects money for a living. But, while a rabid killing dog is what Bart made of Danny, it is still not the sum of all that he is. While leashed he is very much a little boy still, unsure and submissive; until something very amazing happens, Danny hears the melody of a piano.

While on the job Danny is waiting to be called into action, and he comes into contact with a blind piano tuner named Sam (Morgan Freeman), they talk only briefly but it makes an impression on Danny. After a violent incident that leaves Bart apparently dead, Danny manages to get away and goes back to the last place he saw Sam. Sam takes him in and he ,along with his musicaly gifted step daughter Victoria, bring Danny into a world he could not remember from his childhood, a world he had forgot exisited, a world of love and  family.

Along with Sam and Victoria, Danny slowly begins to become a person again and with each day the killer within begins to slip away, but he still does not dare to take the collar off for fear of what he may do to those he has come to love. Also, Danny’s mind is opening as he is exposed to the piano music that Sam and Victoria play around him, his mind begins to wander back to a time, to certain notes, and finally to small memories of his mother.

But life is never simple, and in time Bart returns and discovers that Danny is still alive and comes for him. Suddenly Danny’s new life of love and family is brought violently into odds with his old life of death and violence. Can Danny lose the collar and the violent life that went with it, or is he a dog, a killer, always waiting for the call of his master and the click of his collar?

Unleashed is an amazing demonstration of how to appeal to two vastly different audiences while not alienating the other. The action scenes are exactly what we have come to expect from Jet Li and his stunt and fight company. The battles are seamless and amazing to behold as his dance of martial arts and movement bring the story into a full blown adrenelin rush of action packed awe. However, the fight sequences make up only a small portion of the story because to my mind the the true beauty of this story is the music and how it shapes and colors the enviroments that Danny finds himself. This film has two sides to it, the gritty, bloody, violent side that takes place whenever Danny is with Bart. On the flip side we see Danny happy, growing, and loved while he is with Sam and Victoria. These two sides are illustrated beautifuly in the score.

Jet Li is amazing as he switches from Danny to the violent dog at the click of his collar. The most enjoyable part of his performance may be his portrayal of innocence and child-like wonder as he is shown the world he never had at the hands of Morgan Freeman and Kerry Condon. Morgan Freeman is the quentisential father figure in this touching piece where he takes in what is essentially a wounded dog and helps bring him to a healthy loving place. Kerry Condon is charming and lovely in this film and her interaction with Jet Li is very sweet, but nothing is more beautiful than the moments they share at the piano. With the good comes the bad, and Bob Hoskins plays an amazing bad guy, you love to hate him because while Bart is a horrible character, Bob Hoskins brings so much life and color to this villain that he makes it a pleasure to watch the monster at work.

Over all I highly reccomend this movie to anyone who loves a good action film, but does not want the movie to be all fight and no substance. The fighting skill in this movie is only matched by the beauty of the acting and the wonderful piano music. Beauty and violence mesh in an intricate dance set to a master pianist’s masterpiece in this incredible movie and you should definitely take a look, and that’s how I see it.

If you enjoy this film you should check out:

The Professional

The Transporter

The Fifth Element

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