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MONA LISA is a complex, intriguing, multi-faceted combination of black
comedy, love story, crime drama and adult thriller that demands repeated
viewings in order to successfully peel back the various layers and get to
the heart of the matter. What you find there is entirely up to you, but I
believe it to be a sad and sensitive portrayal of a small-time crook trying
to fit into a world that simultaneously rejects and baffles him following
his belated release from prison. Hoskins, once again stunning in a role that
could have been written for him, is never too naive and never too
streetwise, more of an amiable combination of the two. There are obvious
paralells to his unforgettable character in THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY - in that
film, his character was a murderous thug who somehow remained worth caring
about (largely by virtue of his utter confusion at the collapse of his
criminal empire at the hands of forces unknown), whereas here, Hoskins'
character is appealing because he displays an inner core of utmost decency -
he seems shocked by the depths of depravity the underworld has stooped to in
his absence, he is stunned by his ex-wife's refusal to let him see his
daughter, and even the sight of his "tall, thin, black tart" (a brilliantly
understated performance by Cathy Tyson) pleasuring an obese businessman with
some light bondage leaves him disgusted and furious. In the film's latter
stages, he simmers and seethes like a faulty pressure cooker, and having
been by his side throughout his singularly upsetting voyage of discovery, we
can share his rage and frustration.
If I had to pick fault with MONA LISA, then that fault lies in Robbie Coltrane's unconvincing performance as a wheeler-dealer who writes detective stories and sells plastic foodstuffs. It isn't Coltrane's fault that the character seems contrived and tacked on to the story just to make things a little more abstruse (one of director Neil Jordan's most consistent failings), but he seems to be plodding through his role indifferently, rather than living it the way Caine and Hoskins are. Nonetheless, MONA LISA is a very fine film and one that should be seen and digested by anyone with an interest in British crime cinema.
Bob Hoskins made two widely popular movies in the 1980s and this was
one of them. Having seen the other, "The Long Good Friday," I wasn't
expecting too much but was pleasantly surprised. Hoskins, just out of
the slams, is hired to drive a high-end black hooker, Cathy Tyson, from
one wealthy client to another. He grows to care for her and when she
asks him for a favor, find a strung-out young girl named Kathy, a
former roomie of hers, he agrees. He searches the seedier places of
London until he finally digs her up. She very young and very hooked.
Robbie Coltrane is Hoskins' friend, and Michael Caine is a sort of
procurer. The ending is both distressing and violent -- distressing
because some of these characters are fully fleshed and we feel we've
come to know them.
The film is quite nicely done. The score makes much use of Nat "King" Cole's ballad, Mona Lisa, evoking mystery, and it's appropriate. The composer has worked what seem to be endless variations of the first four notes of the theme into the score. We hear it in the background often, in minor key, or played exclusively on double bass, or burnished by horns. Those four notes insinuate themselves into the incidental music so often that a listener loses the sense that they are the introduction to a pop song and they come to have an ominous functional autonomy, disembodied from the simple tune that prompted it. They become their own song.
The acting is fine. Bob Hoskins is an essentially moral guy, short and unprepossesing, who first shows up on screen wearing an echt-1970s bell-bottomed leisure suit (he's been in for seven years, remember) and carrying a bouqet of flowers that his wife, berserk with anger, tells him what to do with. His gradual attraction to his passenger is nicely laid out, as are the reasons for his occasional displays of violence. He's a sensitive guy, but not too thoughtful. A lot of things get by him. But, to be fair, they get by the viewer too.
There's an element of humor running through the film, mostly expressed in the relationship between Hoskins and Coltrane, who plays a writer and a sculptor of things made of plastic spaghetti. ("The Japanese have cornered the market.") The dialogue is pretty funny in a low-key way. Hoskins and Coltrane sit watching TV and Hoskins remarks something like, "Remember that guy who was murdered? Well, I did it." Coltrane: "You're not joking?" Hoskins (turning and staring grimly): "I -- never -- joke." Coltrane: "You used to tell that one about the randy gorilla." And here is Hoskins describing his passenger, telling Coltrane that she's not out to exploit him, Hoskins, because "she's a lady." Coltrane: "A lady? I thought you said she was a tart." Hoskins: "Well -- she is, but she's a f****** lady too."
And Cathy Tyson almost beggars description, tall, slender, lithe, not staggeringly beautiful or sexy, but her appeal extends far beyond mere appearance. She's gorgeous in the most personal way. She tends to keep her face down and her eyes lowered, almost demurely, and her voice is soft and low, just above a whisper, although you never have to strain to hear what she's saying because her pronunciation is modulated and precise. It's soothing, in control and at the same time reassuring, the voice of an announcer on a late-night FM station playing nothing but classical music. You could listen to her for hours. You could look at her for hours too, for that matter. Michael Caine doesn't have a big or showy part, but he's so reliable that he's always a pleasure to see on screen. I can't think of a single film that has been damaged by his presence, although he's been in a few bummers.
The photography is perceptive. We get a good deal of local color not only from the London locations but from "the seaside," where everything comes to a head. There isn't a lot of violence. What there is of it is quick and pointed.
See it if you get the chance.
Neil Jordan's 'Mona Lisa' is a great film that was sadly forgotten over time, even though Hoskins got an Oscar nomination for the film. 'Mona Lisa' follows a basically good guy whose made some bad choices George (Bob Hoskins) and his return from prison. Shunned from his wife and some of his old buddies, George feels kind of unwanted but gets a job from his old boss (Michael Caine) chauffeuring a call girl (Cathy Tyson) around at night. The call girl and George form a bond, while the story turns into violence, crime and George and the call girl's search for a young innocent teenage girl forced into prostitution. In my opinion, 'Mona Lisa' is one of Jordan's best films if not his best. Hoskins is absolutely amazing in his role, while Cathy Tyson and Michael Caine provide solid performances as well. Clarke Peters (who you may know as Detective Freeman from HBO's brilliant dramatic series 'The Wire') is also in this as Cathy Tyson's evil and psychotic pimp. For all you indie fans out there, rush to the Blockbuster near you to rent 'Mona Lisa' (make sure it's not 'Mona Lisa Smile', that movie is a tad bit different.) Most likely, you'll find a lot to enjoy and/or admire about this little British indie gem. Grade: B+
This film is one of the best to have come out of Britain in the 1980's. Produced by Handmade Films, George Harrison's company, the film won several BAFTA awards and deservedly so. The film deals with an ex-con named George, played by Bob Hoskins who gives a fantastic performance, who is given a job by his old boss, Mortwell, as played by Michael Cain (another fantastic performance). George is now the chauffeur for a high-class prostitute and the story revolves around her educating him on the finer cuts of life with the result of him falling in love with her. It's a powerful film, showing the gritty side of the London underworld and it cannot go wrong with two of the best ever performances from the masters - Bob Hoskins and Michael Caine. These two men know how to play these roles. A true lesson for any actor.
"Mona Lisa" is one of those weird Neil Jordan dramedies which resound with
more ferocity upon afterthought than while actually watching it. Like "The
Crying Game", I was left with no immediate impression of the movie, but days
after watching it, I became haunted by the film's ingratiating reality. You
can tell you're watching a good movie when you can describe it as
"atmospheric" without the film trying overtly to reach for that effect.
Bob Hoskins stars as George, and as we first see him, he is lulling along a dismal London apartment neighborhood with a plastic bag and a fistful of flowers. As he reaches his destination, the audience soon realizes what a heartbroken journey this man's life has been. Indeed his good intentions at seeing his wife and daughter are mired by the wife's stubborn, yet understandable reaction of slamming the door in her ex-convict husband's face.
Soon George is hired by the callous gangster Mortwell (Michael Caine) as a chauffeur for the high-class call girl Simone (Cathy Tyson). He is at first repelled by the "tall black tart", as she remarks about his slovenly appearance. In a subplot structured like a revisionist feminine "Pygmalion", George is made over by the prostitute into the appearance of a "gentleman", a contempestuous appearance which only magnifies his good-hearted nature in comparison with the cold-blooded Mortwell.
Soon, however, George and Simone strike a bond seemingly based on a mutual affection for the souls lurking beneath each facade. Simone details to George an old blonde friend named Cathy still working the streets and implores him to rescue her. Jordan builds upon the elements of "Taxi Driver" here and even pays homage to that film in one scene depicting the front end of George's automobile backlit by a seedy district filled with peep shows and pedophiles.
Of course George is starting to fall for his elegant charge, but his feelings are more of a fatherly nature than anything. Simone seems to feed off this affection, as she states that she does no more than drink tea at the behest of her clients and even provides snapshots of her doing so. This is why it comes as even more of a shock to George when he accidentally discovers a porn video featuring Simone at the provocation of things which her innocent demeanor had previously rendered him incapable of imagining.
Much of "Mona Lisa" is built around human desperation, and indeed one can sense that George, like Travis Bickle or Jimmy Stewart in "Vertigo", is attempting to erroneously place the puzzled-together image of the perfect woman into the jagged emotional contours of his love interest. Of course the title implies this, and Jordan reinforces this symbolization with not only the Da Vinci painting and the Nat "King" Cole ballad, but with the incandescent statues of the Virgin Mary which his friend (Robbie Coltrane) collects. This is unarguably Hoskins' best performance, in a career entirely overlooked by even the most driven of film fanatics. After roles in "The Long Good Friday", "Pink Floyd: The Wall", this, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", and the upcoming "Felicia's Journey", one can deduce the sheer emotional vicissitude which compelled him to aim for, let alone attain, the raw power that comprises his characters.
MONA LISA (5 outta 5 stars) Every now and then I have to watch one of my favourite 5-star movies just to remember what a truly GREAT movie looks like. This is one of my all-time faves... with incredible, top-of-the-line performances from Bob Hoskins, Michael Caine (playing a scary bad guy) and Cathy Tyson. Hoskins plays George, just released from prison after taking the rap meant for his old boss, Mortwell (Caine). Mortwell knows he owes George something but doesn't really think that much of his criminal talents so he gets George a job driving one of his high-class prostitutes (Tyson) from job to job. Soon, George is smitten with this tough, gutsy lady-of-the-streets. Simone, sensing that George is a kind-hearted soul who will do anything for her, gets him to try and track down another young hooker friend of hers who has gone missing. George finds the young woman, incurring the wrath of Mortwell and setting himself him for an emotional upheaval at the film's climax. Masterfully done with great dialogue. The film manages to be funny, heartrending, violent and romantic... sometimes all in one scene.
Mona Lisa is a classic 80s low budget thriller that combines raw power with an emotional storyline resulting in an acting masterclass from a virtually faultless cast. Bob Hoskins is mesmerising from the very opening seconds of the film, playing lonely naive chancer George. He has just been released from prison after 7 years for taking the rap for a crime committed by local gangland boss Denny Mortwell (Michael Caine). Caine soon gets George back on the payroll, as an exclusive chauffeur for high class call girl Simone (Cathy Tyson). But George helplessly falls for Simone and gets sucked into her secret agenda for trawling London's seedy underworld - mainly prostitution. The film is a masterpiece from director Neil Jordan - easily his best work to date and has never been bettered - and the cast benefit greatly from an impeccable script. Jordan's ear for dialogue is never more evident than here - especially in Geroge's conversations with his only true friend Thomas (Robbie Coltrane). Anyone who thought Hoskins couldn't better his performance in The Long Good Friday in 1979 should take a look at this. He is simply astonishing and your eyes never leave a single scene he is in. But no review would be complete without paying tribute equally to the unearthed gem that is Cathy Tyson. Bearing in mind she was barely 20 when this movie was shot, she is incredible opposite Hoskins and whilst she has had more of a TV career since, it is surprising (and perhaps a shame) that she has never had perhaps the vehicle or opportunity to scale such heights again. However, Kate Hardie is also deserving of special mention as a fellow hooker, and her great portrayal in this movie has shamefully been totally overlooked over the years. Caine's cameo appearance is also menacingly good, and he plays the seedy villain with chilling ease. Throw in the great location work around London's Soho and Brighton, and a great tune from Genesis, and you get a presentation every bit as high class as Tyson's Simone is meant to be.
After serving seven years in prison, the smalltime criminal George (Bob
Hoskins) is released. He seeks out his daughter but his ex-wife does
not allow him to talk to her. His friend Thomas (Robbie Coltrane) meets
George and gives his Jaguar that he kept for him. George is impressed
with the changing in the neighborhood while Thomas explains the new
reality. George is hired by his former boss Mortwell (Michael Caine) to
work as the driver and bodyguard of the high-class call girl Simone
(Cathy Tyson). In the beginning, George is misfit for the position and
does not get along with Simone; but gradually he befriends and falls in
unrequited love with her. Simone looks for someone on the streets of
the King's Cross district (red light district of London in the 80's)
and soon she asks George to help her to find the prostitute Cathy (Kate
Hardie). George is involved with the underworld of prostitution and is
chased by the dangerous pimp Anderson (Clarke Peters). When he finds
Cathy, he discovers the connection of Simone to her.
"Mona Lisa" is a melancholic love story in an environment of low-lives and losers in the underworld of London. The beginning of this movie is a drama entwined with romance and ends a thriller. The good-hearted George is a needy small-time criminal, naive in many moments that falls in love with the prostitute Simone. Bob Hoskins, Cathy Tyson and Michael Caine have magnificent performances. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Mona Lisa"
George (Bob Hoskins) newly out after a stint in prison, agrees to chauffeur
Simone (Cathy Tyson) "a tall, black, tart". At first they hate each other,
but things can change. So when Simone asks George to find a friend of hers
that she lost contact with, he dives into the sordid, underbelly of the
sex/prostitution underworld. This film was an unexpected treat, knowing next
to nothing about it, save for the fact that I admire Bob Hoskins, Micheal
Caine, and Robbie Coltrane all. Cathy Tyson was merely ok in the film &
sadly Coltrane is pretty much wasted as Thomas. But both Hoskins and Caine
are superb. Sadly, in America at least, Bob Hoskins is known to the
non-cinema masses as merely Eddie from "What ever happened to Roger Rabbit?"
& "That guy from Hook". This is a shame, as he's an amazing
My Grade: A
Where i saw it: Sundance channel
"Mona Lisa" is a moving and memorable combination of the British crime film and the character study, produced by George Harrison's company Handmade Films, and serves as a showcase for some very impressive performances. Top billed Bob Hoskins, in particular, in his Best Actor Academy Award nominated performance, is the person we follow through a convincing depiction of the seamy underbelly of London, a land populated by pimps, prostitutes, and mobsters such as the nasty Mortwell, played by Michael Caine. Hoskins's George is a low level mob member getting out of prison after spending seven years there, emerging into a world unfamiliar to him. He's given the initially thankless task of acting as chauffeur for high class prostitute Simone, played by the lovely and amazing Cathy Tyson. But before very long, they start warming up to each other, and the balance of the movie charts their evolving relationship. Ultimately George decides to do Cathy a favour by finding a long lost acquaintance of hers, but this leads to less than ideal circumstances for all involved. Director Neil Jordan, who co-wrote the screenplay with David Leland, has created a compelling if deliberately paced drama that's much more character driven than action oriented, although there are some brief bursts of violence here and there. The film also has quite the sense of humour at times, much of it coming from the engaging Robbie Coltrane as George's good friend Thomas. Thomas likes to create art using plastic spaghetti (!), and there is a nice light touch brought to all scenes with Hoskins and Coltrane, which prevents this story from ever being too much of a downer, although for the most part "Mona Lisa" is grim and gritty stuff, with fairy tale and film noir elements emphasized. By the end, George realizes how much he's been manipulated by his femme fatale Simone. Jordan completely pulls us into this vivid environment, and gets nice supporting performances from Kate Hardie as Cathy, Zoe Nathenson as Jeannie, and Sammi Davis as May, as well as a sufficiently slimy portrayal by Clarke Peters ('The Wire') as vicious pimp Anderson. (Trivia note: look for Kenny Baker, always to be best known as R2-D2 in the "Star Wars" franchise, as a boardwalk busker.) Fine music by Michael Kamen is a plus, as well as soundtrack selections including Nat King Cole's performances of "When I Fall in Love" and the title tune. Worth seeing for fans of the crime film and of the cast & crew, "Mona Lisa" is potent entertainment. Eight out of 10.
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