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"Well, let's say you're a lady. " - George (Bob Hoskins)
MichaelMargetis4 September 2005
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+
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Dark and twisted love story, well-written and deeply sad
Mr-Fusion23 June 2014
Warning: Spoilers
What kicks off MONA LISA is the unlikely relationship between ex-con chauffeur (Bob Hoskins) and high-end call girl (Cathy Tyson). The two couldn't be more at odds, but there's an incremental softening, with Hoskins slowly becoming taken with her sophistication. But the film's terrific noir story finds our small-time crook plunging himself into the murky waters of the London underworld as he tries to unravel a mystery. And in true hard-boiled fashion, he's had enough of being jerked around as events turn ever more downbeat. There's a glimmer of hope in the closing moments of MONA LISA that happens just when you think things can't get any bleaker. It's not at all what one would expect, but for once, there's finally a note that's upbeat.

Wonderful movie; engrossing while it plays, and hard to shake when it's done. The story is luridly captivating even when the seedy scenery isn't. And there's a nice break for a music video (Genesis' In Too Deep) that lays on the mood in the grand Miami Vice tradition. And the performances from Hoskins, Tyson and Michael Caine (who commands the screen during his scenes) are remarkable. But it's Hoskins who makes this movie his own as a character who's usually clueless, with an innocence masked by gritty toughness. We share his heartbreak when he's denied that which keeps him going, and the film's emotional center is embodied by him. He really does an amazing job here.

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An 80s classic
mark-whait28 November 2009
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.
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She's a tart. He's an ex-con. The film is a gem.
Hey_Sweden7 May 2012
"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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Complex Mystery for Adults
rmax3048232 March 2003
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.
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Beautifully Done!!!! A Must See!!!
hokeybutt9 August 2005
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.
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Wow... beautiful
Avwillfan8918 October 2010
I was completely blown away and amazed at how brilliant this film is, and how underrated it's become since it came out. The title is based on the Nat King Cole song "Mona Lisa", which he sings about the famous Da Vinci painting and the mystery that surrounds it - and film revokes around that same painful mystery of a what a certain woman wants, and what she has experienced.

The film opens with that song, with the male lead character, George walking to his daughter's house after his release from prison. Looking for work as a chauffeur for his gangster boss, he is appointed to a high class, sophisticated black prostitute, Simone, to drive her around. She is annoyed at first by his appearance, but slowly begins to trust him, fitting him into new clothes. But as soon as she has faith in him, she eventually drags him in to a dangerous pursuit and rescue of a young girl, forced into prostitution. Led into the underworld of porn, sleaze, clubs and street mayhem, George, who unfortunately falls for Simone, questions whether his job is worth it or not and will he or Simone could survive it.

One of the many themes of this movie is the unrequited love of Simone, a beautiful hooker who cannot be possessed, that George develops, and the difficult subject of underage forced prostitution and sadism. Bob Hoskins shines at the top of his acting game as George, showing both fierceness as well as sensitivity to the role, making it a perfect match and a well deserved Oscar nominated portrayal. Cathy Tyson was also perfect as the Mona Lisa - like Simone, and Michael Caine appears as the ruthless king pin Mortwell.

Adding to the mix is the great music, the theme song by Genesis and the dark atmospheric look of London's night spots. All this made me want to see the film again and again, thinking about something different that I saw in it each time. In my opinion, the key to a good movie is wanting to see it again right after it finishes. It's just too bad Hoskins didn't win the Oscar and Cathy Tyson disappeared without a trace over the years. Although it's sometimes bleak, it's a gorgeous piece of art, just like the painting.
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True grit and grime
nobita7 December 1998
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.
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**** (Out of four)
halnexus11 October 1999
"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.
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Melancholic Love Story
claudio_carvalho27 January 2015
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. Nat King Cole´s song gives a touch of class to his great film. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "Mona Lisa"

Note: On 17 July 2018 I saw this film again.
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Intriguing, edgy mystery thriller with a lot of heart...
Degree76 May 2013
After seeing Hoskins in "The Long Good Friday", I was eager to catch another one of his highly celebrated performances. Filling in a similar role as an ex-con looking for work in 1980s London, I found his relationship with a call-girl to be highly effective in the character's exploration of a world he is simultaneously out of touch, but all too familiar with. It is a story that moves along leisurely, as he is soon employed by his employer's worker to find a vulnerable young girl on the streets, and it is here that the film offers a disparaging outlook on urban prostitution, through the annals of both high and low society. Hoskin's character becomes embroiled in an emotional investment beyond his control, and like any Noir protagonist, is very soon out of his league and receiving the short end of the stick.

The ending revelation is effective, but slightly underwhelming when one realizes that his journey was doomed from the beginning, but this kind of set up is to be expected from these sorts of tales. The character development and progression between lead actor and actress is simple, but highly effective.

The cinematography comes across as drab sometimes, but there are many beautiful moments in this film with some detailed choreography and impressive lighting of seedy, smoke filled interiors as Hoskins navigates the Londonian labyrinths.

The ending does feel slightly rushed, but there are so many great moments, and the film has a lot of untold backstory that gives its characters a lot of depth and very realistic insight into human longing. This is a great example of effective exposition that is relayed naturally and not a distraction or disservice to the film. A few choppy moments, but overall 'Mona Lisa' is more than the sum of its parts, and is an entertaining and atmospheric indie flick from Neil Jordan.
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Street Life
screenman23 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
'Mona Lisa' is a 14-year old movie that could have been released yesterday. It is a wonderfully vivid and inevitably sordid insight into the sex industry. Although based in London, it could be any major city.

Bob Hoskins heads a cast that never put a foot wrong. He's a stooge, a schmoll, a muggins. Fresh out of jail after a 7-year stretch during which time he has done the honourable thing and kept schtum, he is naturally seeking some payback. But his paymaster, played by a wonderfully sleazy Micheal Caine, is giving nothing. Indeed, he has all but forgotten him. In an oleaginous exchange, Hoskins' simple character is talked into settling for no more compensation than a driving job. And even then he has to use his own car. It's a good old-fashioned villains' Jaguar 3.4 saloon.

He is driving a high-end whore, played by Cathy Tyson. Hers are a wealthy clientele, to which she has worked her ticket from the street. Hoskins' character is a combination of tough, worldly, working-class, and at the same time untutored, in good taste, or the complex subtleties of human nature.

His best mate is a strange character played by Robbie Coltrane. He's a sort of Del-Boy, constantly looking for the latest big thing, but apparently getting nowhere. We meet him living in a trailer. He provides a cushion of levity which I found implausible and out of kilter with the brutal frankness of the other issues.

There are plenty of other characters who also earn their cameo pay-cheques.

But this is Hoskins' movie. His realisation of a simple east-end crook struggling to grasp the larger issues of the plot is an absolute tour-de-force. He is at once tough and vulnerable, ruthless and humane, smart and simple. And the shifting shades of personality and behaviour are absolutely seamless. He's a confessed murderer, but you love him even so. He wouldn't 'top' anyone who didn't deserve it.

There's so much to enjoy and admire in this movie that I could write all night, but enough. It's flawed. Yet the story, the shocks, the camera-work, and the top-notch acting set in the insidious stratum of human vice will stay with you long after.

Very highly recommended.
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Sensational Hoskins powers this bleak, brilliant film
rick_711 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Mona Lisa (Neil Jordan, 1986) is a fantastic piece of work: a quiet, touching love story framed against a sordid, squalid London underworld full of underage prostitutes, drug addicts and pitiless gangsters. Bob Hoskins is magnificent as a former mob driver and Nat 'King' Cole fan who gets out after seven years in stir and seeks a helping hand from his old bosses. What he gets is a job ferrying around high class call girl Cathy Tyson, with whom he falls in love. So perhaps he's not thinking straight when he agrees to track down a friend "the tall black tart" promised to look out for years before, taking him deep into the sordid, squalid underbelly of the capital. Jordan establishes many of the concerns he'd conclusively nail in The Crying Game - unlikely friendships, game-playing and moral courage awoken within a lost soul by undaunted love - but his view is bleaker, even nihilistic, as the unconventional, sweet-hearted hero struggles to breathe in an appalling, stifling universe that's impossible for him to comprehend. Then gets royally screwed.

The acting is universally superb, though Hoskins is unquestionably the stand-out, trading on his great gift: the ability to transmit his very thoughts through that intelligently expressive fizzog. Tyson is also terrific, while Caine is stunningly utilised in what's essentially a glorified cameo as a colourful, rabbit-loving crime lord. Jordan's script, co-written with future Wish You Were Here director David Leland is exceptional: poetic, funny, quotable and frequently profane, while his direction is laced with idiosyncratic, left-field touches. The film also casts its net a little wider than you might expect, dealing with the artificiality of the '80s and the rise of consumerism through Robbie Coltrane's comic foil. He peddles fake spaghetti that goes "like hot cakes" and winds up apologising for his friend's language to a glow-in-the-dark statue of the Virgin Mary that he thinks could be the next big thing. It's a nice, offbeat subplot that offers solace from the grime, though Mona Lisa's calling card remains the unforgettable love story at its centre, which has a nod to film noir and carries a devastating sucker punch.
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Mona Lisa made me smile more then "Mona Lisa Smiles" which, ironically made me frown
movieman_kev1 May 2004
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 actor

My Grade: A

Where i saw it: Sundance channel
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Occasionally dubious but mostly compelling crime drama with a great leading performance
BJJManchester13 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
A crime drama showing the seamy (often very seamy) side of London's underworld,MONA LISA is a sometimes flawed but mainly absorbing mid-80's British pic with an outstanding performance at it's centre from Bob Hoskins.

A newly released con,George (Hoskins) has taken the rap for his former boss,Denny Mortwell (Michael Caine) by doing seven years inside.An attempted reunion with his wife fails miserably, though he keeps in contact with his teenage daughter, and Mortwell gets him work as a driver for a high-class prostitute Simone (Cathy Tyson) whom George soon falls in love with.Simone's response is more measured,and she asks him if he can find and trace a younger prostitute whom she befriended,Cathy (Kate Hardie),with the unpleasant intentions of Mortwell and her sadistic pimp (Clarke Peters) always a continuing threat.

MONA LISA has some decidedly sordid aspects in it's plot and content, with Mortwell having no scruples in procuring clearly underage girls (usually drug-addicted) to wealthy and perverted elderly clients, requesting George gets photos of Simone's clients in compromising positions (for obvious blackmailing purposes), and hanging around the seediest bars and sleaziest strip joints.This material quite easily could have tipped over the top and into sensationalism,but Neil Jordan's admirably understated and atmospheric direction thankfully prevents it from doing so,with apposite cinematography in murky,desaturated tones effectively lensed by Roger Pratt,capturing the sense of gloom and melancholy perfectly.

The film's main flaw are scenes involving George and his mechanic friend Thomas (Robbie Coltrane) who he lodges with.Presumably intended as light relief and further explanations of the plot, they merely come across as irrelevant and superfluous and cause lapses in the skillful mood and atmosphere Jordan creates in the crux of the film around the red light district of King's Cross and Soho,and swankier hotels in contrast.This was the mid-80's era of expanding free market ethics and Yuppiedom,but there's little indication of this in MONA LISA,perhaps emphasising an essential soulessness to the period's outlook, with a predictably miserable image of a dank,chilly English seaside in Brighton.

There's a basic unlikability to all the characters on view,yet Hoskins makes his character wholly sympathetic,as we travel with him into a world he is increasingly horrified and repelled by,and seemingly attempts to prise away those caught in such a labyrinth of unending nastiness and seediness.His love for Ms Tyson is genuinely touching,adding complex layers to a character that is on the face of it bullish and intimidating,yet deep down very caring,protective if even compassionate,with a heartbreaking revelation that the love is not requited.Much of the film resembles TAXI DRIVER in this sense,though Hoskins' George is a rather more mentally stable hero than Robert De Niro's anti-heroic Travis,with MONA LISA's violent climax not of his making.

There's fine support from Caine as the evil Mortwell,and a often touching portrayal by Cathy Tyson who struggles to keep her senses in the midst of the violence and perversity she is tragically subject to.But this is Hoskins' film all the way,with his memorable performance than even has tinges of humour helping to take the edge of the often questionable material and subject matter at hand,and with the help of Jordan's careful direction (barring the unnecessary scenes with Coltrane),making MONA LISA one of the better British films of the mid-80's.

RATING:7 1/2 out of 10.
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Unique, complex and sensational.
Rockwell_Cronenberg5 February 2012
Going into this, I was expecting an alright film with a strong performance by Bob Hoskins. Boy, was I so very wrong. Hoskins himself more than exceeded my expectations, but the real surprise was how powerful the film itself was. Like a lot of my favorite films, the premise is simple; George (Hoskins) is fresh out of prison and gets a job as a driver for Simone (Cathy Tyson), a high-class call girl. It's an easy setup for a crime thriller, when George inevitably takes a fancy to Simone and will do anything she asks, but it's what they do beyond that which takes the film to another level. As a crime thriller, it works brilliantly. I wish Neil Jordan would operate more in this genre, because with this and the phenomenal Crying Game, which came out six years later, he has proved twice over his massive capability for making crime thrillers that are unique and wickedly intense.

As George is driven down this dark path into the new underworld, a place darker and more twisted than it was when he went away, Jordan paces everything with a slow burn that gets downright diabolical in it's final act. Michael Caine shows up as the sinister crime boss and he practically tears through the screen with his malice, along with a solid supporting turn by The Wire's Clarke Peters. There's an elevator scene near the end that just about made me sweat it was so intense and unexpected. Hoskins portrays George as an intimidating man with a rage inside of him, but when he's on screen with Caine he looks like a chubby boy being picked on at the playground.

The relationship between George and Simone is built in a refreshingly honest way, played with genuine sincerity by Hoskins and Tyson, and all of this leads to a practically flawless crime thriller. However that's not where the film stops, as there is so much more going on beneath the surface. One could take it all at face value and still manage to be amazed, I know I sure would have been, but I found that the themes resonated far deeper than that. It's unspoken, but I feel that the change of the world is really displayed in focus here by Jordan and in particular by Hoskins' portrayal of George. He came out of prison expecting to get right back into the crime game, but the world has changed and grown far too menacing for someone as simple and good-natured as him. George has a mean streak to him and is capable of great violence when necessary, but at his heart he is a man who believes in the old ways.

He went down for another man and when he comes out of prison he buys that man a rabbit to let him know that he's back. It's not done as a message of anything sinister, but as a kind gesture, to buy a "fluffy rabbit with long floppy ears". Just take notice at how the tone of the film has shifted by the time the rabbit comes back at the end and we've come full circle, and you can feel how the weight of this theme pours through the picture. Another subtle way they display it all is through how George dresses himself. When he first gets money for a new wardrobe, he buys tacky and unsuitable clothing, making a fool of himself but he finds it hilarious. As he takes his job more seriously, he buys a finer wardrobe and the people that serve these wicked men take notice and respect him more as a result; they treat him as if he's anyone else. It's when George begins to revolt back against this changed world that he once again goes back to his more flamboyant clothing and embraces the good man that he always was.

There's so much going on in Hoskins' performance that isn't laid out for the audience, but he makes it impossible not to see. That whole theme of coming out of prison to a much different and more frightening world is heartbreakingly portrayed through his expressions, he carries the whole thing almost on his own. The "guy falling for a prostitute" routine has been done dozens of times in cinema over the years, but there's an added weight to it here when Hoskins portrays the haunting loneliness of this character and how desperate he is just to have a companion. He's fresh out of prison in a world that doesn't want him anymore and all he wants is someone to treat him like he matters. This all comes through in the remarkably complex and detailed performance from Hoskins, which commands this rich film all the way through. As a crime thriller it's aces, but if you pay enough attention it is so much more.
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Touching and poignant masterpiece
jexline28 April 2007
Neil Jordan's "Mona Lisa", one of the best films of the 1980's is one of those hidden little gems that once you see it, will change your life forever. Some complain about the slow pace; others about the fake happy ending, but the truth is the powerfulness of the movie lies within these boundaries, not despite.

Bob Hoskins gives the performance of his career as George, just released from prison who finds work as a chauffeur for a high class call girl (played by Cathy Tyson). The two start off as enemies with a hate-hate relationship, but soon they find that they are entertained by their arguments, amused by each other. Eventually George gets involved in looking for a girl Simone used to walk the streets with, and is, as she is afraid, the slave of a dangerous pimp.

Michael Caine, giving the third major performance of the movie, shines in a brief, but memorable role as a very creepy, very corrupt mob boss.

Bob Hoskins deserved the Best Actor Oscar for his performance here, and Cathy Tyson and Michael Caine deserved nominations. A scene set to Genesis' "In Too Deep" with George exploring the underbelly of London's porn shops and strip clubs is perhaps one of the most well choreographed in film history.

A masterpiece of mammoth proportions and full of quiet moments that speak wonders, perhaps the only films that came as close to touching me have been Atom Egoyan's "Exotica" and Mike Figgis' "Leaving Las Vegas".

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Hoskins finest performance
arthurclay20 October 2007
Bob Hoskins most likely should have won the Oscar for Mona Lisa, a crime love story if such a thing exists. One of the three best British crime films, the other two being "Get Carter" and "The Long Good Friday". Hoskins is George, a getaway driver fresh out of prison who agrees to be a driver for a call girl. Michael Caine has a smaller yet noteworthy appearance as the mob boss Mortwell. I personally would have liked to seen Caine have more screen time in this but if he had, he might have upstaged the two leading parts and therefore would have been a bad idea as far as the story goes. The viewer likes George, admires George, and some more than others know in a way, what its like to be George. We identify with his plight having been in similar situations albeit with less danger involved. This film does leave the audience with a few unanswered questions. I believe I know what those answers are. I am not one hundred percent sure that I am correct. But I don't think it's important to know all the answers here. The situations are clearly defined and what happens is no mystery either. I will say that the ending is typical of films made in that decade and the decade previous to it. I can't say I will watch this one regularly but it is remarkable.
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Subverted my expectations
tomgillespie200224 April 2015
Bob Hoskins' performance in Mona Lisa is usually highly praised and spoken in the same breath as his portrayal of hood boss Harold Shand in The Long Good Friday (1980). But apart from their shady dealings within the British criminal underworld, their characters couldn't be more different. Where Harold was an old-fashioned, respectable gangster who had excelled in his business now looking to go straight, Mona Lisa's George is a petty crook fresh out of a long stretch in prison. They are both fascinating, detailed portrayal's, but I feel George is the more complex performance, serving as a sad reminder of the fact that the world lost one of it's finest actors last year.

Thrust back into a world that seems to evolved without him, George manages to land a job driving call girls from client to client. His first customer is Simon (Cathy Tyson), a beautiful, upper-end call girl who clashes with George's bull-headed personality. She gives him money to buy some decent clothes, and he shows up in a Hawaiian shirt and leather jacket. With time, their differences become their bond, and Simone asks George to help her find her old friend, a young girl named Cathy (Kate Hardie), who is still in the hands of a sadistic pimp (played by The Wire's Clarke Peters). Meanwhile, George's old boss Denny Mortwell (Michael Caine) is suspicious of their activities and demands that George provide information on Simone.

The movie doesn't go over-the-top with its depiction of the capital's seedy underbelly, but is far more subtle in the way it plays on our expectations. We're all aware of the presence of prostitutes in practically every town in the country, but do we ever really consider what they spend their money on? How they are treated? Where do they sleep at night? We glimpse the true barbarism behind the red lights here, something that George finds difficult to deal with. However, the film is by no means grim, with an excellent script by director Neil Jordan and David Leland providing many amusing moments, particularly in the exchanges between George and his detective story-loving friend Thomas (Robbie Coltrane).

The performances are excellent all round. Hoskins is a rather lovable lunk, proving to be almost insistent at drawing unwanted attention to himself and Simone; at complete odds with this new world he stumbles across. He's the type of guy who asks for a cup of tea at a strip club. Tyson too (what happened to her?) projects real vulnerability under her mask of confidence and beauty. When the movie shifts from drama to thriller in the last third, Caine becomes a menacing presence with a unnerving lack of emotion. All the filth we witness is all just business to him. By the end, as what I initially thought was a character-driven relationship drama turned into something else entirely, the film had subverted my expectations so much that I had to just sit back and admire.
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Mona Lisa (1986)
SnakesOnAnAfricanPlain21 August 2012
Many consider this the British Taxi Driver. A bit of a simplification as it deals with a man who gets involved with the underworld of underage girls and prostitution. Mona Lisa is much more a romance set against a backdrop of criminal violence. Bob Hoskins stars in his greatest role ever. Just out of prison, he gets a job driving around a high class call girl. They develop a working relationship of trust and soon Hoskins is asked to track down a missing girl. Hoskins is so perfect in this role. You can easily see him as a gruff and mean gangster, but he adds a vulnerability which serves the romantic angle so well. He also has an endearing childlike naivety. Hoskins has great chemistry with everyone from Michael Caines villainous Mortwell, to his conversations about crime novels with Robbie Coltrane. The soundtrack is ace, with the opening and closing lyrics to Mona Lisa being all about interpretation, which this film certainly asks you to find your own. Director Neil Jordan litters scenes with which allude to fantasy stories, a white rabbit here, performing dwarfs there, etc. The dialogue is funny, the relationships emotional, and the themes disturbing. It's the full package and almost unique in its tone.
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"The Lady With The Mystic Smile"
seymourblack-130 October 2018
Warning: Spoilers
In Neil Jordan's offbeat crime drama, an ex-con quickly discovers that the world he knew has changed radically in the 7 years that he's spent in prison and that adjusting to some sort of normality in his old surroundings, is going to be a huge challenge. The gritty realism with which this story is told makes it compelling to watch and the loneliness and confusion he experiences is perfectly understandable and depicted with great credibility.

Immediately after being released from prison, small-time criminal George (Bob Hoskins) goes to visit his old home but gets an extremely hostile reaction from his ex-wife and is unable to make any meaningful contact with his teenage daughter who doesn't even recognise him. Frustrated and hurt by what's happened, he accepts his good friend Thomas' (Robbie Coltrane) offer to stay with him for the immediate future.

George, who chose not to incriminate his old crime boss when he went down, feels that Denny Mortwell (Michael Caine) owes him a favour and so approaches him for a job. He's given the opportunity to work as a chauffeur for an upmarket prostitute called Simone (Cathy Tyson) and soon starts to drive her around to the high-class hotels and posh mansions where she visits her clients. They share an uncomfortable relationship at first because George feels that she has too many airs and graces for someone in her profession and she regards him as an embarrassment because of his uncouth behaviour and appalling dress sense. As time passes, however, they start to warm to each other and Simone buys him some smart suits and shirts to make him look more presentable. George, who's always been used to being exploited, abused and threatened, starts to enjoy the attention. He's a romantic at heart who loves Nat "King" Cole's "Mona Lisa" and in his own mind starts to draw parallels between the enigmatic Simone and "the lady with the mystic smile".

On a few occasions, Simone asks George to take her to King's Cross where they park close to the ladies of the night who ply their trade there. She's disappointed when she doesn't find the person she's looking for and later asks George to help her find a friend of hers called Cathy (Katie Hardie), who she fears may still be working under the control of the same violent pimp they both used to work for in the past. George, who's fallen in love with Simone by this stage, readily does what she asks and puts himself in great danger as he searches through the clip joints and "knocking shops" of Soho. When he eventually finds Cathy who's a 15-year-old, drug addicted prostitute and the two women are reunited, Simone doesn't show her appreciation in the way that he'd hoped and he finally sees their relationship for what it really is.

George is an interesting character because, despite his considerable experience as a criminal, he's remarkably naïve and easily shocked by what he encounters during his time working with Simone. He's also not really streetwise and doesn't recognise danger as quickly as he should. This makes him vulnerable to exploitation by the many unscrupulous people he's surrounded by and notably, Thomas is the only person who ever treats him with any level of respect or genuine friendship. Bob Hoskins' Oscar-nominated portrayal of George makes him a very sympathetic character primarily because he's fundamentally good-natured but also because of how bewildered he is by so much of what transpires.

Cathy Tyson is utterly convincing as the elegant Simone, Robbie Coltrane is great as the likeable Thomas who has a liking for bizarre thriller plots and Michael Caine is excellent as Denny Mortwell, a diabolical villain who's ruthless, repulsive and completely devoid of any redeeming qualities.

As the movie's director and co-writer, Neil Jordan certainly did a great job of creating a genuinely offbeat, skillfully directed story that's incredibly atmospheric and featured numerous recognizable London locations to give the movie its strong sense of time and place.
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great performances
SnoopyStyle9 October 2015
George (Bob Hoskins) gets out of prison but his wife won't let him see his daughter. Thomas (Robbie Coltrane) is his friend from the old days. Times have changed. The only job he can get is to drive high-priced call girl Simone (Cathy Tyson) for local gangster Denny Mortwell (Michael Caine). George and Simone don't get along at first. Simone talks George into looking for young prostitute Cathy but he befriends abused May (Sammi Davis) instead. Meanwhile Denny wants George to find out what Simone is doing with one particular client.

Cathy Tyson is electric in her character. Bob Hoskins is great but his character is conveniently written dumb sometimes. At times, he's too naive like crashing in on one of Simone's tricks. I don't know what exactly he expects to see in that room. Sammi Davis is absolutely heart-breaking. The movie is a little uneven at times but the two leads are great.
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Almost great modern noir
The_Void24 April 2005
Mona Lisa is an interesting predecessor to Neil Jordan's later masterpiece 'The Crying Game'. Taking in many of the same themes as the later film, such as the nature of love, affection and doing what's right, Mona Lisa is an update of the classic film noir tradition that also has obvious ties with other genres such as crime, romance and even comedy. One famous film that I would liken this one to is the Martin Scorsese classic 'Taxi Driver', as the two films deal with similar issues and follow a similar structure, but Mona Lisa distances itself from the classic 70's movie because it has a very obvious heart at it's centre. The characterisation in the film is really well done, and it's obvious that writers Neil Jordan and David Leland care a lot about the characters in the movie. The events of the film are almost all a result of character actions, and the plot follows George; an ex-convict who has just been released from prison. He is given a job ferrying a high-priced call girl around her various jobs. What George doesn't count on is that the contempt he feels for her will turn into affection.

Like The Crying Game before it, Mona Lisa is a down and dirty, gritty movie and this styling does the film no end of favours when it comes to portraying the plot. The movie's style bodes well with the themes on display, and it also serves in giving it an edge of realism. However, the film's main downfall is that, while the atmosphere is realistic, the acting largely isn't. Neil Jordan doesn't appear to know how to pull a convincing performance from his stars, especially the female ones, as a lot of the dialogue is delivered in a very forced and phoney sounding manner; and it can get uncomfortable to view at times. Bob Hoskins does well at the film's core, and what I said about the acting can't always be applied to his performance; but there are definitely moments when holes begin to appear with him too. Also, like Jordan's masterpiece, the film's soundtrack is sometimes off-cue, and certain songs would have bee better off not being chosen for the soundtrack. However, all of the film's flaws can be forgiven when the film reaches it's explosive conclusion, as it's the perfect end to the film as it allows all of the characters to fully mature, and Bob Hoskins in particular shines at the climax. On the whole, Mona Lisa is a flawed, but still highly admirable piece of work.
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A Good Film With Some Great Moments
ian_harris24 December 2002
Set in my home town (London) this film shows a side of life that a genteel Londoner like me barely sees. The up-market prostitution in the big hotels, the down-market equivalent in seedy Kings Cross and the sleazy peep shows of Soho are this film's London.

The film has some great moments - at times you feel some genuine sympathy for Bob Hoskyns' unpredictable nitwit of a character and for Cathy Tyson's stunning up-market whore who has worked her way up from the gutter variety. Some of their scenes together are truly excellent.

Michael Caine plays the stereotype villain - he can do more (Hannah and Her Sisters, A Quiet American) but has little room for manoeuvre in this film.

It is in part seminal - the Kings Cross night scenes must have influenced similar scenes in All About My Mother, the grand house kinkiness scenes must have influenced similar scenes in Eyes Wide Shut. Influencing Almodover and Kubrick takes some doing. It is in part derivative - the Brighton Pier scene, for instance, could have come straight out of Brighton Rock or The Third Man.

It's pacey, it holds your attention, it's good. It's not a great movie, but it does have great moments. Worth a look-see.
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Great, hearty film-making
Leofwine_draca16 May 2014
MONA LISA is a classic British film of the 1980s and a film with a great sense of place; one of those movies where you get to see the true London, not the sanitised, Hollywood version. From the high-class dwellings of Kensington to the grubby streets of Soho, here's the capital in all its glory - and there's even time for a road-trip to Brighton (with references to BRIGHTON ROCK) alongside!

Locations aside, this is a fine little film, one with a literate script and decent direction by Neil Jordan. Inevitably, the stand-out thing in the movie is the late, lamented Bob Hoskins, delivering a knock-out performance full of vitality and vigour. Hoskins plays a chauffeur who finds himself caught up in a dark and violent world of prostitution and gangsters.

MONA LISA is a film which subverts expectations and offers no happy endings. Instead, what we get is a gritty, slice-of-life drama, which at the same time offers up the requisite thrills and spills of the thriller genre (watch out for Clarke Peters as a truly nasty pimp). Alongside Hoskins, we get compelling turns from Cathy Tyson and the reliable Michael Caine in one of his bad guy turns, along with a young Robbie Coltrane, and some brief flashes of violence inspired by TAXI DRIVER. MONA LISA is film-making as it should be: a movie that shines a spotlight on human existence and tells a story about real people, warts and all.
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