Published Jun 01, 2005At first reading, the Luc Besson script for Unleashed is a bit of a dog. Not only does it feature one of his countless irritating Leon/Nikita child figures - in this case, Jet Li's animal-like thug/slave to brutal debt collector Bob Hoskins - but Besson's insistence that the removal of Li's collar activates his brutality is so thin it practically melts in your hands.
Things are not improved by the introduction of blind piano tuner Morgan Freeman, who nurtures him in that "fatherly black man" kind of way after Li is separated from his "master" and nearly killed, or his stepdaughter Kerry Condon, who teases him in that scrappy pixie-girl kind of way. And oh boy is Li's re-introduction to society cloying, with adorable encounters with melons and ice cream that will make your skin crawl. You expect the film to become an action fan's Amelie and in a way it does, but it's actually a surprisingly absorbing film all the same.
Director Louis Laterrier is mercifully uninterested in hammering home the "emotional" story beats and goes straight for forward motion. You have no time to react before they go on to the next scene, meaning you can't become bored with unnecessary repetition. Better still, his actors have been directed for snap, not histrionics, which dials down the cute factor and distils the scene to its essence. By completely ignoring opportunities for sentiment, Laterrier does the impossible: he makes the idiotic Besson script credible. Not credible enough to actually believe though, but enough to make you sit quietly without making snarky asides or throwing things at the screen.
It's a tough job to pull off but the director is up to the challenge and the result is a stylish, well-paced thriller that never stops moving long enough to let you ask the obvious questions. (Alliance Atlantis)