Unleashed

What can you say about a contemporary fairy tale of a man raised as a human pitbull, in which unapologetic grimness vies constantly with goofy, squirm-inducing sentimentality? The answer hinges on how easily you buy into the rosy conceit that Mozart sonatas and vanilla ice cream can transform a brutalized sociopath into a cute and cuddly companion. Danny...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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What can you say about a contemporary fairy tale of a man raised as a human pitbull, in which unapologetic grimness vies constantly with goofy, squirm-inducing sentimentality? The answer hinges on how easily you buy into the rosy conceit that Mozart sonatas and vanilla ice cream can transform a brutalized sociopath into a cute and cuddly companion. Danny (Jet Li) has lived his life in a cage, let out only to do the bidding of his "Uncle" Bart (Bob Hoskins), a pugnacious Glaswegian loan shark whose white suit is perpetually spattered with welshers' blood. When Bart removes Danny's collar and snarls "Get 'em," Danny's a flesh-and-blood guided missile. Collar on, he retreats into near-catatonic docility, a stooped and silent nonentity untroubled by memories of the past or hope for the future. Blind chance sets Danny free: Bart's car is ambushed by a disgruntled victim of his strong-arm tactics, and the badly wounded Danny escapes. He makes his way to a warehouse where, while waiting for Bart to conduct some nasty business, he once met blind piano tuner Sam (Morgan Freeman), who spoke to him gently and even guided his callused hands across a keyboard, awakening the faint echo of a memory. Danny is drawn to music despite his degradation — dare we say it has charms that soothe his troubled breast? — and the kindness with which he's treated by Sam and Sam's teenage stepdaughter, talented pianist Victoria (Irish actress Kerry Condon, playing American), reawakens the humanity Bart systematically stripped away from Danny. But Bart is too mean to die, and Danny is inevitably delivered back into Hell. Even hobbled by a neck-brace, Bart is a smoldering volcano of vitriolic bluster and blunt threats: If Danny doesn't return to the underground fight circuit and win Bart some serious money, his new friends will rue the day they took him in. Director Louis Leterrier, who debuted with THE TRANSPORTER (2002), wraps screenwriter Luc Besson's trademark mix of pop psychology, fable-like happenstance and gleeful violence in sickly shades of gray, green and sienna and keeps it moving at a ferocious clip. But the Brit-gangster grit, punched up by fight choreographer Yuen Wo-ping's visceral action sequences, mixes awkwardly with the sappy sentimentality, and the film's bizarreness pales next to that of little-known exploitation film SONNY BOY (1990), which weaves similar material into something authentically nightmarish.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: R
  • Review: What can you say about a contemporary fairy tale of a man raised as a human pitbull, in which unapologetic grimness vies constantly with goofy, squirm-inducing sentimentality? The answer hinges on how easily you buy into the rosy conceit that Mozart sonata… (more)

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