The film is mainly cast with unknowns, but all of them give very energetic performances, with lots of enthusiasm which comes across to the audience. Of the 3 boys, Emile Hirsch is a stand out and is one to watch in the future. There are a few well known people of the cast, one of them being Heath Ledger, who gives a fantastic performance as the Jim Morrison type ‘leader of the group’ Engblom. This would have to be one of Ledger’s best performances ever, and is definitely memorable. Rebecca DeMornay is almost unrecognisable as the mother of one of the boys, and gives a very sympathetic performance. Johnny Knoxville pops up as a local gangster type, who sponsors one of the boys, and tries to turn him into as greedy as he is.
The cinematography and skating scenes are excellent in this. The audience really gets a sense of being with the boys as they skate, and the tricks that the guys do on the boards are quite something. The storyline is slightly cliché ridden, as at times it feels like the usual ‘coming of age story’. But the fairly strong performances from the leads, and the excellent skating scenes generally overcome any minor quibbles.
Skateboarding is a multi million dollar industry these days, so it’s interesting to see what it would have been like in its early days before the Corporations took things over. The music and costume design of the 70s are always fun to watch, as is the case here. This is well worth a look, and is an entertaining and interesting history lesson.
Rating out of 10: 7 and a half
Western audiences have taken their time to getting used to Jet Li’s films. His first American film was Lethal Weapon 4, where he played the villain, but since then he has mostly played good guys roles in films such as ‘The One’, & ‘Cradle to the Grave’. His last film was the excellent ‘Hero’, where he finally showed how good he could be in action roles without the restraint of the Hollywood machine. ‘Unleashed’ is a change of pace for Jet Li, as in this one he actually has to give a ‘performance’, and act convincingly amongst the action. He does this surprisingly well, and makes his role very sympathetic and endearing. Naturally his action scenes are at his usual high standards, but this film is more of an acting piece for him. His scenes with Morgan Freeman are well handled and believable.
The rest of the cast do their usual good roles. Bob Hoskins delights in playing a rare bad guy role and chews the scenery as much as he can. Hoskins exudes evil and makes his dangerous psycho role, a very scary one. Morgan Freeman lends his usual dignity to proceedings, and plays his usual mentor type role to perfection. Kerry Condon as the stepdaughter is very charming, and thankfully the film mostly stays away from making her part the ‘token love interest’. Her character has an important role to play and helps guide the Danny character to discovering himself.
The film isn’t mostly about the drama of course, and the action in this is quite impressive. Jet Li certainly has a great technical knowledge of fight scenes and impresses at every turn. Whilst the films of Jackie Chan feature fight scenes that are mostly played for laughs, Jet Li takes his scenes very seriously, which adds to the tension and danger. There is very little CGI work in this and most of the fight scenes are done for real. There are some holes in the storyline, but generally the acting and action mostly overcome them.
Martial Art type films have their own cult audiences, while other people dismiss them out of hand for being ’silly’. This is one of the better films made of the genre and has more substance in between people getting thrown around. Definitely one of the best American made Jet Li films, with good performances all around.
Rating out of 10: 6 and a half.