Mona Lisa (1986)

Mona Lisa (1986)
  • Time: 104 min
  • Genre: Crime | Drama | Romance
  • Director: Neil Jordan
  • Cast: Bob Hoskins, Cathy Tyson, Michael Caine


George, after getting out of prison, begins looking for a job, but his time in prison has reduced his stature in the criminal underworld. The only job he can find is to be a driver for Simone, a beautiful high-priced call girl, with whom he forms an at first grudging, and then real affection. Only Simone’s playing a dangerous game, and when George agrees to help her, they both end up in a huge amount of trouble with Mortwell, the local kingpin.

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  • 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 loveable 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.

    Rating: 4/5

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