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Jet Li, Morgan Freeman and Bob Hoskins in "Unleashed" - CinemaDave

May. 21st, 2005 11:12 pm Jet Li, Morgan Freeman and Bob Hoskins in "Unleashed"

Ever since his cinematic fight with both Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in "Lethal Weapon 4," Jet Li has made some interesting and thought provoking movies. His mastery of the martial arts is a given, but Jet Li choice of roles and narrative has been varied. Last year, Jet Li joined an ensemble cast for "Hero," a historical epic about Chinese politics told from multiple perspectives. This year Jet Li gives his best performance in "Unleashed," a smaller scale movie contrasting violence with artistry.

Based on the screenplay by Luc Besson, "Unleashed" introduces us to Danny the Dog (Let Li), a henchman for Scottish crime lord Bart (Bob Hoskins). Appearing docile, Danny wears a leash around his neck. When his Glasgow Master unleashes him, Danny becomes a deadly killing machine. Bart raises Danny as a caged animal and feeds his scraps of food.

During a shakedown at an antique store, Danny befriends Sam (Morgan Freeman) a blind piano tuner. Danny's world opens up and he becomes hypnotized by the classical music of Mozart. When he becomes separated from Bart after a violent episode, Danny is given food, clothing and shelter by Sam and his step daughter, Victoria (Kerry Condon).

The scenes were Danny establishes his connection to everyday behavior are more memorable than Jet Li's action sequences. Thanks to the sensitivity, but not maudlin, acting of Freeman and Condon, Jet Li's physical performance is heightened. Despite being one moment away from explosive violence, Jet Li's boyish qualities transcend the chop socky stereo types. One humorous moment that stands out is Danny's introduction to ice cream and the inevitable brain freeze that it causes.

Bob Hoskins could steal the show with such a gregarious role. He is both frightening and funny. While the character does become a tad annoying towards the end, this long winded annoyance steps up Morgan Freeman's blind character.

As Sam, Morgan Freeman character could be the relative of the character he portrayed in "Million Dollar Baby." Originally the character was not blind, but Freeman thought it would help the screenplay. Freeman's instincts were correct. Thanks to Freeman's suggestion, "Unleashed" does an entertaining job making Danny's conversion from human pit bull to classical musical patron.

With English as his second language, Jet Li communicates a physical performance with empathy. People looking for plot holes will find them with "Unleashed." The film has performed poorly for an opening weekend, but the audience appreciated this thought provoking action genre flick. If you miss it on the big screen, see it when it is released on DVD

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