A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this film is extremely violent and isn't meant for kids. The fight scenes include the sounds of bones breaking, with prominent displays of blood, bruising, and limbs twisting. The premise itself is potentially distressing, as it has a young boy imprisoned and trained to fight on command by a loud-mouthed loan shark; he sets the grown-up version (Jet Li) loose on his debtors by growling "Get 'em!", feeds him chunks of food, locks him in a cage, and calls him his "dog." The underclass villains use harsh and colorful language (frequent use of "f--k," in multiple formations). The gangster assaults prostitutes on top of cars. Jet Li fights in an underground betting arena (like dogfights), where contestants use large knives and hammers, though eventually the gangsters become frustrated and use automatic weapons too. Many characters are killed in hand-hand-combat. There is a very disturbing scene where a child sees his mother shot in the head in front of him.
What's the story?
UNLEASHED centers on reluctant warrior Danny (Jet Li plays), who is imprisoned and abused at the hands of foul-mouthed, lunatic Glasgow gangster Bart (Bob Hoskins). Bart keeps Danny caged and collared until he needs him to persuade debtors to pay up. After Bart's car is shot up by enemies, Danny breaks free and is taken in by blind piano tuner Sam (Morgan Freeman). Living in Glasgow so his strangely childish 18-year-old stepdaughter Victoria (Kerry Condon) can attend music school, he senses Danny's appreciation of music. Danny begins to remember his piano-playing mother, and memories of her traumatic death when he was a child come flooding back. When Sam is threatened by hoodlums, Danny returns to violence to protect his new friend.
Is it any good?
While ferocious, the fight scenes in Unleashed are also frankly awesome, brilliantly choreographed and inventively shot. The film's narrative combines melodrama, martial arts conventions (underdog wins, intelligence overcomes brawn), and sly twists on formula. Though it's not quite satire, the film does show that its makers know their genre history and expect viewers to keep up.
This is a rare action film in that it raises questions concerning identity, memory, and the effects of abuse. Danny's aggression (visceral and brutal in the film's stop- and slow-motion, time lapse speediness) stems from his abuse, not his character. All he has ever known is to attack on command. Once he starts to play music and listen to it carefully, he learns that he doesn't have to hurt people. The film offers a thoughtful (if occasionally battering) meditation on the transcendence of music, and the strength to be gained from family, however ragtag or unusual in structure. Jet Li is excellent, the visual excess is calculated, and the Massive Attack and RZA soundtrack is sharp. Brutal and bizarre, Unleashed is peculiarly moving.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the formation of the good, supportive family, who helps Danny (Jet Li) to resist the terrible fate he thinks is inevitable. How do you know what your options might be, if your horizons seem so limited? How does music help you to get through difficult periods or inspire you to do good work?
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