Advertised horribly, Unleashed is hardly the action film it was made out to be. It definitely has action (and superb sequences of it as well). This is a drama however, one that switches in tone twice before ending in a basic revenge tale.
Before all of that, you’ll need to swallow a rather ridiculous plot device, putting Jet Li in the hands of a crime boss, ruthlessly turning Li’s character Danny into a lethal killer, much like a dog and complete with collar (hence the international title of Danny the Dog). It’s hard to believe that for his entire life, Danny was never found, rescued, noticed or searched for, but once you get past that hurdle, the film takes shape.
There’s not much time spent on trying to explain the past, other than Danny’s mother. Unleashed begins with a brutal fight sequence, and like the rest of them included here, they’ll be hard to watch even for seasoned action fans. Li pulls of excruciating (and viciously repeated) maneuvers when he’s on the offensive with a fury and brutality rarely seen in martial arts films. It doesn’t feel choreographed, especially an intense battle in the small confines of a bathroom later in the film.
Those sequences are surprisingly rare though. Once the character is established, Danny is allowed to move on, discovered by Morgan Freeman’s blind character. What that begins is an oddly touching tale a human being brought up to normal civility, while discovering his past through piano playing.
Freeman’s stepdaughter, played by Kerry Condon, is the weak link in the film. She’s obviously playing a character who is far from the age she’s meant to be, and takes on the role of an “annoying teenager” without much success. Still, it’s through that character that Danny learns some of the world that was foreign to him previously.
It leads to some traumatic moments as Danny comes to terms with himself, interspersed with some well done comedy that takes the edge off some of the sheer brutality to come. Even those expecting an all-out martial arts action epic will be drawn in, which is assuming they bought the premise in the first place. Li is capable in his role with limited dialogue, and very little of the “wire-fu” he’s known for.
That makes Unleashed better than expected even though what you’re expecting may be something else entirely. This is a wonderfully written drama, perfectly melding multiple genres. If you can buy the concept, you should buy this movie. (**** out of *****)
Draped in murky colors for Danny’s depressing moments and brightly lit during his upbringing to a sense of normality, this DVD transfer is a notable one. It handles both styles without trouble. There’s no color bleeding and no sign of the black levels graying out either. It captures the multiple tones of the film as it’s intended. Movement is quick and the transfer makes sure every frame is maintained with equal clarity. (****)
Audio is disappointing, even with a DTS track. The problem is the soundtrack, obnoxiously pumping out bass, drowning out the action and impact of Jet Li’s strikes. It’s hard to listen to, and it’s not mixed well either. There’s little if any surround channel action, leaving the stereo speakers to take most of the beating. Dialogue is the only section of the disc maintained properly, the subtle speaking parts picked up clearly. (***)
This is a confusing DVD treatment in the special features department. The unrated edition is barely that, apparently including a few brief snippets of action and nudity the MPAA didn’t allow. It barely qualifies as a new cut. There’s also an “extended” version, sloppily splicing in new scenes, as the sequences are cut in from somewhere else on the disc. These scenes aren’t mastered equally either. These brief moments are not available any other way. You’ll need to watch the entire film to see them.
Actual extras are barely worth watching. Director Louis Leterrier Unleashed is a waste of time as the filmmaker takes a few moments to discuss his background and then delves into his actors. It’s 9-minutes, and there’s far more footage of the film than of the director.
Serve No Master is like the rest of the disc, explaining the plot of the film, which isn’t necessary since if you own the disc, you’ve seen the film. Jet Li and Bob Hoskins discuss the story, and briefly their characters. Again, it’s padded with film footage to come in, again, around 9-minutes.
Collar Comes Off is another feature that goes over the plotline, and while it promises behind-the-scenes footage, it barely delivers. It’s 12-minutes, and that’s excessively long. Two music videos close the disc out. (*)
Marketing departments must love “unrated.” Apparently, the cut used here was the version released in Europe, and the few seconds of extra footage only means the studio didn’t re-submit this to the MPAA for home release. Buy it for the surprising movie, not the “footage not seen in theaters!” You’ll be greatly disappointed.