A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 177 – Unleashed

Unleashed – August 24th, 2010

I should apologize right now, because I’m about to get all serious in here. Serious about an action/martial arts flick. I know that’s not usually how these movies are meant to be watched, but watching it I found I couldn’t help but think serious thoughts about the plot. When we put it in tonight, I thought I’d be getting mindless action, some cool fight scenes with Jet Li, and all in under two hours so we could finish in time for me to write my review. No problem! And instead I’m thinking about child development and present-day slavery.

None of the coursework I did in grad school covered this sort of stuff. We mostly talked about literacy. So let me start by saying that the alphabet book Danny’s got near the beginning? The one he’s fascinated by and spends so much time looking at? Well, it makes a great prop for the movie, but a shitty alphabet book. An abstract concept like love? Tough. I don’t doubt there are books that have used it, but still. It prodded my librarian brain. It said “Cute idea, but not realistic!” Which sort of sums up a good portion of the movie for me. Oh, I enjoyed it, let me assure you, but like I said. I’m getting serious.

See, the movie takes this plot, with a loan shark, Bart, who’s got a fighter he’s trained up to be his muscle. And the fighter is Danny, who’s been with Bart almost his whole life. And he’s well trained to attack on command. You know, the alternate title of this movie is Danny the Dog. All Danny knows is to be quiet until his collar is off and when the collar’s off, attack on Bart’s command. And he’s lethal. Ruthless. Emotionless and efficient. The perfect tool. Not a human being at all. And as the plot goes, Danny escapes and meets a man named Sam who tunes pianos and lives with his step-daughter, Victoria, and they take Danny in and show him what a normal life is like until, of course, Bart shows up and wants Danny back and then there’s lots of fighting. Look at that plot. Look at it hard. This is slavery we’re looking at here, and while I’m sure we’d all like to think slavery’s a thing of the past, it would be painfully ignorant to believe it.

Slavery, the owning and using of another human being, is the gimmick that drives the movie. Danny hasn’t been free to make his own decisions and live his own life since he was seven. I know I’m taking this far more seriously than some, given that this is an action flick, but then there’s the whole middle section with Sam and Victoria. The writers wanted to show the effects Bart’s abuse has had on Danny, from his ignorance of cutlery to his total disregard of violence happening nearby. We’re supposed to see the bad stuff. And I think this is what bothers me, even though I did enjoy the movie. It’s presenting this horrible situation, with a man being kept as an animal and made to fight, and I know that slavery exists in the real world, and then it also asks us to accept that this unspeakably hideous damage done to the main character can be undone in a matter of weeks or months. Maybe I am taking it too seriously. It would be nice if some cooking and music lessons could undo decades of abuse. Maybe it’s better to just think of the movie as a fantasy. It’s rooted in reality. Painful and ugly reality. But it’s not real.

So, fantasy it is. And as a fantasy it does just fine. After all, the fight sequences are almost magical themselves. They’re full of slow motion cuts where near misses are lovingly captured for the viewer to admire from several angles. Jet Li as Danny spends every fight sequence doing moves that defy belief, bouncing from one enemy to the next and back again until they’re all gone. The movie starts with him up against a group and that’s really a thing for this movie. One on one fights are just so boring! We need multiple assailants to really spice things up, so every fight has a couple of people for Danny to beat on. And if the fights had been the whole movie it would have just been a very nicely done martial arts action movie. But then there’s that plot.

Now, I’m not going to complain about Morgan Freeman as Sam. I love Morgan Freeman, and he does play a good fatherly figure. When we review Batman Begins I’m sure I’ll get to wax rhapsodic about him and Michael Caine overloading the paternal wisdom intake in my brain. And I’m not going to complain about Kerry Condon as Victoria. She’s got an odd quirky character to play and she manages to make Victoria endearing instead of annoying. And I rather like their little family, brought together by tragedy and loss and kept together by music and compassion for one another. It’s a nice theme. It just strikes me as so oddly unexpected in the middle of a movie that starts with a fight sequence.

I guess what my problem is, is that while I enjoyed the movie, I was too aware of all of the nitpicky stuff. When I let go of all of that, it was a fun movie to watch. The performances are great, especially Bob Hoskins as Bart, and the fight scenes are a treat for those who like that sort of thing (and I do). So I’d suggest not doing what I did and getting bogged down in the particulars and realities unless you really want to do some serious thinking. If you want to enjoy a fun action movie, just let it go. Pretend it’s set fifty years from now or something. Because it’s an unexpected sort of movie. An action movie with a heart. And while it’s worth thinking about, it’s also worth just watching.

August 24, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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