Unleashed review by The Grim Ringler



            Now, it’s weird, isn’t it, when you have a friend or someone who wants to see a movie you have no interest in so you find yourself faced with a dilemma – be honest and a jerk and say hell no, or you can be the good person and say ok, I’ll try it. Me, I am the jerk nine out of ten times, simply because, if I don’t have an interest in the film, I won’t enjoy myself and odds are, the other person isn’t going to enjoy themselves. So no one wins, right? I was faced with just this dilemma recently when dear friend Oktober wanted to see this Jet Li action vehicle and I had, not so much no interest in the film as an indifference to it. But it ended up at the cheapie theater and he wanted to see it so I figured the least I could do was to be a good friend for a change and go. And let me tell you, there are few feelings as good as being wrong about a movie you were sure you wouldn’t like.


More of a fable or fairy tale than a movie about reality, Unleashed is the story of Danny (Jet Li), a man-child who had lost his mother, his only family, at a young age and has been raised by a cruel uncle (Bob Hoskins chewing scenery like it’s an all you can eat buffet). This uncle has, over years of training and torture made Danny into a brutal and ruthless killer who is docile while wearing what amounts to a dog collar, but when released and told to attack someone, he is relentless. And serving as his uncle’s dog, he is the muscle behind a strong-arm operation that extorts money from clients by any means necessary. Things get complicated though when Danny happens upon some pianos and a blind piano tuner and is reminded of a time in his life when he loved music and the piano. This distraction leads to the second mistake in two jobs for Danny and his master is not a happy man, having had to take the brunt of blows from two angry debtors. But an opportunity arises in which Danny can make his master lots and lots of money if he fights in and wins a series of to the death arena fights. The first match is a success and it looks like Danny is to become a killer outright, a machine of death and not just fear in order to make his master the money he needs to retire. After the fight though the car Danny, his master, and two others are traveling in is beset by a vengeful man that Danny and his master have taken their vengeance out on. In the ensuing crash Danny is freed of his master and, injured and scared, finds himself in the music shop and before the one man he feels he can trust, the piano tuner. This man takes Danny home and tends to his wounds and invites him to stay as long as he likes. And, apprehensive and frightened at first, Danny finds that this place where a man and his niece live, this place of hope and music and happiness and love, is one where he finally feels safe and happy. And with the help of the man and his niece Danny learns to become not a dog, but a man, and it appears that he is finally free. Only, his master, his false uncle, has not perished in that car accident at all but has been wounded and is anxious to have his lost dog returned to him. But when Danny remembers his past and realizes that his master has been lying about the fate of his mother and how he came under the care of this ‘uncle’ he understands that he must free himself and make himself into his own man, even if it means returning to the violence he has worked to leave behind.


As much an examination of self-creation and the idea of nature versus nurture and how a person is raised, there is a lot going on in this simple little action film. Far more than you’d imagine. Danny is, like the monster in Frankenstein, a man damned by who he was made to be, but who wants to be more than he is. And there are those who take pity on him to help, but the master is not one to be denied. Danny is a man that was made a monster, but not born one, and with love, and hope, and music, he can and does change. The message can feel heavy-handed at times but it’s rare to find a film with so much and such great action and also has an emotional depth to it as well. And Jet Li is fantastic in this film, giving Danny both ferocity and vulnerability. He is a man that wants badly to change what he is, but who needs a push.


The action is astounding, the fights breathtaking, and overall, the film is a real gem. Some of the early editing bothered me, but that, and some moments of heavy-handedness were my big issues. If you take the move as a fantasy, as a fairy tale, then you will get this. But if you expect that this is the ‘real world’ then you are not going to get as much from this fun film.

Far better than I had believed and well worth a view.



8 out of 10 Jackasses
blog comments powered by Disqus