"Mona Lisa" remains one of Neil Jordan's best movies. Bob Hoskins plays George a small time thug who took went to prison to protect his boss Mortwell (Michael Caine). To reward George for his sacrifice he gives him a job chaffeuring around Simone (Cathy Tyson)a high priced call girl that Mortwell wants to keep track of. Despite her initial chilly reception, George falls in love with her. Ultimately she asks him to make a major sacrifice so she can be free of Mortwell and his world. It's a price that leads to tragedy and violence.
A brilliant film noir, Hoskins earned an Oscar nomination for his performance and really he deserved it. His portrayal of George is complex. While he's a criminal, he's also surprisingly naive and innocent in his own way and the code of conduct he follows in his life reflects much more solid values than that of a petty crook. Michael Caine shines in a pivotal but small role as Mortwell. Caine has never given a performance as nasty and chillingly evil as he does here. Cathy Tyson ("The Serpent and the Rainbow", "Priest") also deserves kudos for her performance as Simone. Although the surface of her character is chilly she hints at the depths of emotion raging beneath the surface of this sophisticated and sad woman.
The Criterion edition of this looks exceptionally good with nice color reproduction and a crisp, sharp picture. It appears that the same master that was used for the 1996 laserdisc was used here, though, and it probably should have been remastered from a new digital transfer. While presented in its original format this isn't an anamorphic transfer that I can tell which is, again, another reason to update this and create a high definition DVD.
Neil Jordan and Bob Hoskins commentary track provide a surprising amount of interesting detail about the making of the movie. Usually commentary tracks with an actor and director devolves into a lovefest with little actually uncovered but that's not the case here. We learn about the difficulty that Jordan had initially interesting backers in the project and how pivotal the casting of Michael Caine was to making this project viable.
I still would have liked to have more in the way of extras for this classic film. Like the recent re-release of "The Crying Game", there has to be some alternate scenes that survived or outtakes that might have been of interest to fans. Additionally, why not do a retrospective documentary or a glimpse back at Jordan's career as a featurette? Hopefully Criterion (or whomever picks up the license on this film for DVD release in the US) will remaster this and add the extras that this classic film calls for.
on January 24, 2000
Fresh out of jail and trying to reconnect with his daughter, Hoskins is a working stiff/street thug who gets a job from crime boss Michael Caine chauffering a "high-class black tart" played by Cathy Tyson. The Hoskins character is remarkably naive, falls in love with the prostitute and tries to protect her, and disaster ensues.
There's an unforgettable moment, when they're both in tears, hiding behind silly plastic eyeglasses in a garish carnival setting, and, trying to explain her odd situation that he's just beginning to understand, she says, "Haven't you ever needed someone?" and he squeezes out the reply: "All the time."
It's a remarkably tender story in a chokingly ugly environment. Caine is gruesomely sleazy.
I remember seeing this when it first came out, about the time of "Blue Velvet" and "Brazil"; what an amazing era that was! All three movies even had ironically sweet or upbeat theme songs from a few decades before.
Director Neil Jordan later moved on to the weirder pastures of "The Crying Game," and then the glossy jobs "Interview with the Vampire" and now "The End of the Affair," but I still consider this his best -- not to mention Bob Hoskins's most incredible acting work.
on March 17, 2000
I believe Neil Jordan put together a work of perfection here. I deeply cared for the two main characters (played brilliantly by Hoskins and Tyson). The portrayal of the pain of isolation and the hopelessness of not being able to connect with their desires touched me at a level only great works can do. All the details of a film are done with perfection.(Don't forget the fine little performance of Robbie Coltrane who later became the main charater in "Cracker".) But given the individual stengths of the fascinating plot, the extraordinary performances and the effective filming and music, it is the whole, the gestalt of this work, that reaches the highest level of art.
on September 26, 2010
This is one of my favorite movies and is a film I enjoy no matter how many times I see it. I had the standard DVD and was happy to see it was available on Blu Ray. The movie is wonderful from start to finish with outstanding performances by Bob Hoskins, Cathy Tyson and of course the great Robbie Coltrane. The supporting cast is first rate and the direction by Neil Jordan is, as one would expect, terrific. Some of the themes are reminicent of those in Jordan's "The Crying Game". However, this is a much better film that realistically portrays the slimy, dirty and explotive world of illegal prostitution from the Call Girl to the sexually abused young girl. The film revolves around the relationship between a prostitute (Ms Tyson) and her driver(Hoskins) a relationship that goes from distain and animosity to an interesting kind of friendship, understanding and love. I cannot recommend this film highly enough. The Blu Ray version is another matter. While mostly OK the darker scenes, which are many, leave much to be desired. The dark colors are extremely grainy and at times fuzy and distracting. I would recommend the Standard DVD over this Blu Ray version.
on June 8, 2001
Firstly I would say that if you have in your library John Mackenzie's THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY, also available in the Criterion collection, and Neil Jordan's MONA LISA, you already have a good specimen of what the British cinema was able to offer in the eighties. A fabulous actor, Bob Hoskins, is present in both movies; he won the best actor prize at the 1986 Cannes Festival for MONA LISA.
Neil Jordan began his career as a writer and is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting film directors nowadays. It's always challenging for the common viewer to watch a movie directed by a former writer. One often wonders why the director has left his books for the cinema. Some of these ex-writers use the camera as if they were handling a pen and the result is dreadful. Or too intellectual. Fortunately, with MONA LISA, Neil Jordan has created a stunning visual world and George and Simone's night wanderings through the London underworld an unforgettable cinematographic journey.
MONA LISA develops a lot of themes that will touch you in a way or in another. The different levels of the movie are so well mingled in the story that you will be able to watch MONA LISA several times and still discover little pearls hidden by the brilliant director. At the end of the movie, I just wanted to check the sound quality of the commentary track recorded in 1996 by Neil Jordan and Bob Hoskins and I found myself trapped into MONA LISA for an immediate second screening.
Apart from the commentary, this Criterion DVD offers the theatrical trailer and a one page written Neil Jordan commentary.
A DVD for your library.
Upon its 1986 release, "Mona Lisa" was proclaimed a masterpiece of the British crime film drama; it brought the Irish-born Neil Jordan, who'd both written and directed it, to the forefront of working British film directors. Reminded everyone of Nat King Cole's great song. Won its star Bob Hoskins an Academy Award nomination, as well as the Cannes Film Festival and British Academy Awards. It's since been recognized as one of the big three of British noir crime dramas: Michael Caine made "Get Carter," Hoskins made "The Long Good Friday;" together, they made "Mona Lisa."
The movie has frequently been compared to Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver," for many reasons. Hoskins stars as George, typical, low-wattage East End thug, just getting out of jail after doing seven years for crime boss Mortwell (Caine). George thinks he's owed; Caine gives him a job chauffeuring high priced hooker Simone (Cathy Tyson). Hoskins is expert, as ever, in conveying the controlled violence in George's soul; he also conveys as well as possible the character's surprising naivete. Caine is the cool, even-tempered, joking, fierce villain we saw in "Get Carter;" there's a ten-second bit where he allows Mortwell's mask to slip; we see him with bared teeth, closing in for the kill. Tyson, on her way to a television career, does a good job as Simone, with her own problems. The young Sammi Davis, best known for "Hope and Glory,' stands out as an exploited young drug-addicted prostitute. And the economy-sized Scots comic Robbie Coltrane, before his television success as "Cracker," seems wasted in a pointless subplot, as George's best friend.
Still, to me, the most apt comparison to this movie is actually the movie of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men." We have Coltrane, as Hoskin's friend, often asking him to "Tell me a story, George." That's a direct quote from Lenny (Lon Chaney Jr.)'s frequent request to his George, Burgess Meredith. And we have cockney George buying a rabbit for Mortwell, we're never told why, but Lenny had a pet rabbit in "Of Mice and Men." However, on a first viewing after several years, what was most striking to me about this film was how mannered the script is, how careful to alternate dramatic highs and lows. And how unlikely it is that Hoskins' character could be quite so naive, after an adult life spent the shady side of the law, and a seven-year jail stint.
The seamy London underworld of homelessness, drugs, and kinky sex is well-captured in this movie; the powerful photography gives us the feel of some of the city's meanest inhabitants and streets.
Otherwise, this movie builds upon another of Jordan's signature themes: the love of a man for an inappropriate woman. George is evidently greatly mistaken in believing that a character as damaged as Simone can be talked into a future of love, marriage, and a baby carriage. The same theme pops immediately to mind in at least the eight other feature films, that Jordan wrote, and/or directed, that I've seen. Many viewers will be familiar with the recent "Breakfast on Pluto." Liam Neeson, an Irish parish priest, fathers a child upon his housekeeper, whom he actually loves. In "The End of the Affair," Ralph Fiennes tries to continue seeing Julianne Moore, but she's sworn off him, in a prayer to God to save his life during the London blitz. In "Interview with the Vampire," the seven-year old vampire played by Kirsten Dunst, will never, in all eternity, be mature enough for Tom Cruise's undead character. In "The Crying Game,"well, the transvestite Dil will never be the woman Fergus thought she was. Then there's "The Good Thief:" Nick Nolte's old enough to be a grandfather to that movie's teenage prostitute. In "We're No Angels," Robert De Niro, masquerading as a priest, is flummoxed by Demi Moore's Molly. And "The Miracle," an adopted Irish teenager unknowingly falls in love with his biological, and fully-aware, mother. And then there's "High Spirits," Peter O'Toole at his least disciplined, a silly little haunted castle movie. Poor Steve Guttenberg finds himself in love with a ghost in that one. So what's a feller to do?
on June 26, 2005
It's a stretch to link the lyrics of Nat King Cole's recording with this movie and its title. Almost any ballad would have served. But it's no stretch at all to see why "Mona Lisa" became a sleeper hit, launched the career of writer-director Neil Jordan, and won Bob Hoskins an Oscar nomination. He plays an ill-tempered ex-con hired to chauffeur a call girl (Cathy Tyson) around to clients. That he will fall for her is a given; so are the tricks that screenwriter Jordan will play on them.
Hoskins and Tyson tool around London, tend to business, and bond. He is open and inquisitive, she is closed and secretive. What binds them is survival. Rarely has urban low-life been filmed as matter-of-factly as here. Sex for sale is the street currency and those who earn it are injured in ways unseen on their faces. The camera visits sordid sites never listed on tourist maps. Nevertheless, Jordan finds tenderness there, unlikely as it may be, just as John Huston found it aboard "The African Queen."
The movie takes a minute to pull you in and, unfortunately, more than that to keep you there, so difficult are the cockney accents. This DVD lists English subtitles on the case which are nowhere to be found on the menu; nor are any of the easy-to-obtain extras we expect from The Criterion Collection, although there is a Jordan-Hoskins commentary. But "Mona Lisa" is so strongly written, acted and directed that it doesn't need any enhancements to engage us while we are watching it.
on September 6, 2004
I first saw this film alone in a theater years ago when I had an afternoon off. I can still remember how its disturbing images haunted me for days after. It shows the dehumanizing, emotionally disconnected underworld of London prostitution. Bob Hoskins portrays a good-hearted loser, just released from prison. Usually loveable Michael Caine is simply hateful as a sleazy mobster who gives Hoskins a job chauffeuring an elegant call girl (Cathy Tyson). While driving her to her assignations, Hoskins naively falls in love with her. He wants to protect her and feels jealousy as he waits for her trysts to end. Predictably, his amateur love is unrequited - she's a professional who has lost the capacity to feel romantic love. However, she does have an obsession; to locate and save a drug-addicted young girl who is also being sexually exploited by Caine's character. Like a knight on a quest, Hoskins sets out to locate the girl. In his search he visits the creepy haunts of young women enslaved in drug-dependent prostitution. His quest is successful, but his love is not returned. In the end however, he is really the only winner; he has a heart and still knows how to love. Bob Hoskins gives an achingly beautiful performance.
This is a sordid and at times brutal film, which also is sad and great. George (Bob Hoskins) is just out of prison, needs a job, and is assigned by the local crime lord, Mortwell (Michael Caine), to be the driver and, if needed, protector, for a high priced London call girl named Simone (Cathy Tyson). George is tough, straight forward and not too smart. His idea of getting to B from A is to simply go through whatever is in the way. He has an ex-wife who hates him, a teen-age daughter who doesn't know him, and it seems just one friend. He's just a foot soldier. Simone is tough, elegant, defensive, but George and she gradually develop a liking for each other based on...what? "Do they ever fall in love with you?" George asks her one night. "Sometimes," she says. "They fall for what they think I am." "What are you?" George asks. "What do you think I am?" she says. George looks at her, puzzled but dead serious. "A lady," he says. Almost without being aware of it he begins in an inarticulate way to fall in love.
As he takes Simone from assignment to assignment she begins insisting that he drive through King's Cross, a meat rack George calls it, where drugged up street walkers and their pimps loiter in the shadows and try to talk up business with any driver who slows down. Simone is looking for someone, a young prostitute she knew who had disappeared. Unwillingly, George agrees to help find the young woman. The search takes him into some of the worst sex establishments of Soho, where drugs and brutal pimps keep the girls, often underage, frightened and in line, and where a customer's taste for inflicting pain can be accomodated. In the background is Mortwell, a criminal who has turned drugs and rough sex into nothing more than a business. George finally finds Cathy, brings her back to Simone and discovers that there is all kinds of love in this world. The conclusion is violent, sad, and finally somewhat hopeful for George.
Three great performances make this movie. Bob Hoskins brings an almost unbelievable combination of violence and honesty to the part. He makes George into a man who just doesn't get a lot of things but who has a great heart. Cathy Tyson brings a lot of assurance to her role. As the story progresses, she makes the character more and more complex. Michael Caine as Mortwell is something to see. He is calm, businesslike and without a single redeeming feature. He is not a man you'd want to cross. When he says, "Life goes on. We can't control it. We can only swim in it," you get a real sense that he sees life as nothing more than excrement .
This is a first class movie. The Criterion DVD transfer is very good. There's a commentary track featuring Jordan and Hoskins.
on December 21, 2006
Well, the Hollywood gossip is that Paul Newman won the Academy Award for best actor that year not really for his performance in "The Color of Money" but for all the other great performances he was nominated for but didn't win. Eg. "Cool Hand Luke", "Hud" etc. "Color" was, at best, a mediocre film with an okay performance by the cast and no one seriously believes it was in the same category as "Mona Lisa."
I can't add much to what others have already pointed out. How does an actor portray a not too bright, tough, small time hood who has a big heart? It could not have been an easy thing to do, but Hoskins did it brilliantly. From the beginning of the film where he walks across the bridge to the hopeful conclusion when he walks down the road with his daughter and his best friend, you believe and root for this character. He is small time and likely to remain so. But he is by no means a loser. And with that optimistic closing, perhaps Neil Jordan wanted the audience to know that George's daughter would be saved, by his love and his genuine decency, from the same horrid, sleazy fate as Simone or Kathy. It brought tears to my eyes, anyway.
A word about Michael Caine. He is, as usual, terrific. I said in another review that he can play just about anything. (Walter Matthau was one of the few other movie stars to share this ability.) Evil and despicable ("Mona Lisa"), clumsy and romantic ("Hannah and her Sisters"), ruthless ("Get Carter"), funny and rascally ("The Man Who Would be King") and, of course, cool ("The Ipcress File"). I think he once said in an interview that he told Bob Hoskins that the two of them appeared in the three greatest British crime films ever made. He in "Get Carter", Hoskins in "The Long Good Friday" and the both of them in "Mona Lisa."
"Mona Lisa" is bleak and at times tough to watch, but it's one of the best films of the eighties. Five stars.