Mona Lisa, 1986.
Directed by Neil Jordan.
Starring Bob Hoskins, Cathy Tyson, Michael Caine, Robbie Coltrane, Sammi Davis, Clarke Peters, Kate Hardie, Zoe Nathenson and Joe Brown.
An ex-con just released from prison lands a job driving a call girl from job to job.
Arrow Films follow-up their excellent release of The Long Good Friday with Mona Lisa, the 1986 crime drama directed by Neil Jordan (The Company of Wolves) and starring the late, great Bob Hoskins. Hoskins plays George, a criminal released from prison and looking for a job. After going to see his ex-wife and daughter and being told where to go, George goes to see his former colleagues and is offered work driving high-class call girl Simone (Cathy Tyson – The Serpent & The Rainbow) from job to job. Sounds easy but George’s rough, wide-boy charm and Simone’s more elegant manner initially causes the two to clash, until George’s hostility turns to affection. However, Simone’s emotional disconnect from her work means she finds it difficult to reciprocate, but she does use George’s devotion to help her find an old friend who she fears is in trouble with her boss, the ruthless gangster Mortwell (Michael Caine – Get Carter), but George still does not get the affection he seeks from her.
Taking a trawl through the seedy London underworld, Mona Lisa is a surprisingly beautiful film; beautiful in the sense that a) it is fantastically shot and b) it is brilliantly acted and draws you in to each character’s plight. Hoskins shines as the rough-around-the-edges George, a man who you know could kick off at the drop of a hat but he has a heart and a sense of decency, despite not always going about things the right way. The way he interacts with the people around him is quite touching, his time in prison meaning he hasn’t caught up with the world around him – his conversations with his friend Thomas (Robbie Coltrane – Goldeneye) provide some laughs as he cannot comprehend Thomas’ penchant for ornamental food – and his working class background putting him at odds with Simone’s sense of taste and way of operating. Cathy Tyson provides the right level of class as Simone, who may be a prostitute but she commands a certain amount of respect and, as with George, wants to be seen as something other than what she is. Mention must also go to Robbie Coltrane and Michael Caine in their supporting roles, because if you’re going to cast good actors for secondary roles then you may as well go for two of the best British actors of the last few decades.
To be honest, Mona Lisa is a film that punches a little above its weight when it comes to the script as a lot of the dialogue feels a bit clunky and not quite as natural as you would expect given the calibre of the cast, but the level of performance compensates for these shortcomings. There have been comparisons to Scorcese’s Taxi Driver, and while thematically that may be a valid comparison, Mona Lisa doesn’t quite hit the same highs as that film. Most, if not all, of its charm comes down to the performances of the two leads, and while Bob Hoskins may not have been given anything as iconic to work with as what Robert De Niro had in Taxi Driver, it is a film that has an impact once you get drawn into its seedy underbelly and, sadly, it also highlights how much of a loss to acting the untimely death of Bob Hoskins was.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★