February 10, 2006
Man’s best friend takes on a new role. He’s loyal, obedient, loving and will kick the ass of the criminal underworld if they don’t pay up. Previously titled “Danny the Dog” – Unleashed brings a culture clash to our screens, as the French write and direct an eastern martial arts flick and British gangster film hybrid, with astonishingly awesome results.
Treated, trained and kept like an animal since childhood, Danny is a human attack dog for his master, a debt collector affectionately called Uncle Bart. When people don’t pay up, Danny’s collar is removed and he is unleashed to deliver some persuasion in the form of a vicious beating. After a rival gang attacks Bart’s operation and leaves them for dead, Danny is left wandering around the real world and befriends a small family with a love for music, and a longing to remember his mother. But what will happen if one of them takes his collar off?
The actor’s performances are what really drives this film. To describe Unleashed as a martial arts film would be an inaccurate description. There is plenty of martial arts action but it’s the heart of the story that makes this film exceptional. Jet Li has the performance of a lifetime as he portrays Danny with the mentality of a child, yet the physicality of a canine. His acting performance is as good as his fighting ability. Bob Hoskins is flawless as Uncle Bart as he switches between loving father figure and foul mouthed mobster master to Danny, and is perfectly contradicted by the grounding nature that Morgan Freeman brings to Sam, the blind piano tuner.
Freeman and Hoskins are not the only opposing factors that make Unleashed so beautiful to watch. The styles in which Danny’s two lives are represented are a credit to both director Louis Leterrier (The Transporter 1 & 2) and writer Luc Besson (The Transporter 1 & 2, Kiss of the Dragon, The Fifth Element, and Nikita). The action scenes are fast paced, quick cuts, jump cuts, blurring, whip pans and up tempo music by Massive Attack, whereas in Danny’s new life the camera work is different, with slower pans, longer shots, a gentle emotional tones of the piano. It’s all very well structured and stitched together with some great transitions and some brutal fight scenes wonderfully choreographed by Master Woo-Pin Yuen (Kill Bill, The Matrix, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon).
Whether it’s the scenes involving debt collecting or underground death matches, we expect to see Jet Li kicking ass, you don’t expect the brave move of actually giving him a heart and the chance act with surprising range. Unleashed is not only a visual triumph but also manages to farm ideologies from all over the world seamlessly without completely giving in to any Hollywood convention.
Nothing groundbreaking here, but what is here is pretty good – an awesome trailer still billing the film as Danny the Dog. Some computer effects stuff, outtakes, deleted scenes – all nice but not bringing anything exceptional.
The making of is where the points are, interviewing the director who takes his through various processes of casting, working with the actors and the martial arts stunts. We are even treated to a scene in which they decided that Bart would be cutting Danny’s hair and therefore let Hoskins take a pair of scissors to Jet Li’s hair.