out of Five
Running time: 103
OPENS FRI 19TH AUGUST
Unleashed director Louis Leterrier may be an unknown, but the script is written by French action guru Luc Besson and the film occasionally resembles Leon with its mixture of tender scenes and brutal violence. Originally titled Danny The Dog, this is an enjoyably offbeat action thriller with definite cult potential.
Set in Glasgow, the film stars Jet Li as Danny, a young man who has been raised as an attack dog by his “uncle” Bart (Bob Hoskins), a vicious loan shark. Whenever Bart’s clients need a little persuasion to part with their cash he takes Danny’s collar off and all hell breaks loose.
However, when a car accident separates Danny from his “master” he escapes and finds refuge with Sam, a blind piano tuner, played by Morgan Freeman. Gradually, Sam and his prodigy daughter Victoria (Kerry Condon) bring Danny out of his shell but his conditioning goes deeper than they expected.
The fight scenes are both superbly staged and genuinely exciting to watch, largely because you can actually tell who’s hitting who for once. Highlights include a terrific fight in the closed quarters of a toilet and Danny’s various encounters in the Arena Of Death, where Bart enters him as a sort of modern day gladiator.
Li gives an extraordinary performance as Danny. He frequently conveys a wealth of expression simply by using his eyes. We genuinely feel for his character and sympathise as he struggles to overcome his conditioning.
Freeman gives yet another wonderful twinkly-eyed performance, which is quite an achievement, given that his character is meant to be blind.
In addition, Kerry Condon impresses as Victoria - the scene where she gingerly removes Danny’s collar for the first time is both nail-bitingly tense and bizarrely erotic at the same time.
The premise of the film is both unusual and genuinely fascinating, but Besson and Leterrier choose not to dig too deeply, coming down on the side of the action set-piece rather than the emotional drama. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, particularly when the action scenes are this good.
In short, Unleashed is an enjoyable, off-beat action thriller that has ‘Future Cult Movie’ written all over it. It also contains Jet Li’s best English language performance to date. Recommended.