Neil Jordan’s “Mona Lisa” (1986) begins with a romantic take from under a bridge, almost identically to his most celebrated and celebrated movie “The Crying Game” (1992).
It’s far from the only things these two Jordan-directed films have in common, and they are masterpieces.
Bob Hoskins plays George, a man who has just finished his seven-year prison term, and is especially known for how George does not deal with his boss, a criminal named Mortwell (Michael Caine, very evil). George has been away for so long, his neighborhood has changed, Mortwell is now a seemingly elegant and respectable citizen, and George has no idea how to use his pager.
Mortwell hires George to drive a prostitute named Simone (Kathy Tyson) to her dates. At first, George’s bad temper, shabby demeanor and inability to blend in (always asking for Bloody Mary wherever he goes) makes him a poor match for Simone’s controlled elegance. He hates his job of passing it from one client to another and is disgusted with his careless behavior and appearance.
At one point, they became so angry with each other that George stopped the car, ordered it to walk the streets and left it while he was driving.
She says, “You are a pig.” She’s right. It’s terrible.
George doesn’t care about the dirty world he indulges in (it’s his best quality), but he’s also naive and devoid of his element. Gradually, the two become friends and George agrees to help Simone in finding the young woman in the streets who could not save her and was looking for her.
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George is a doll and a monster prone to wrath. Hoskins’ direct and always compelling performance is never apologetic for the character. It takes some time, but George eventually realizes what we see right away: In his words, Simon is “a quintessential woman.”
Tyson plays neither a “bitch with a heart of gold” nor a male fantasy. Her performance here is as natural and raw as her co-star. Hoskins and Tyson don’t come across like movie stars playing stock characters – they’re very moving because George and Simon look like real people.
Jordan and David Leland’s script is character-driven but narrow and fast-paced. Within ten minutes the premise starts to move as we internalize the identity of these characters, not through the show but through the action.
To go back to the “Crying Game” comparisons: Like Fergus, Stephen Rhea’s protagonist in that movie, George reveals a surprisingly tender side that doesn’t show up easily. Hoskins finds the human center of a man very hard to like.
There’s also the story “The Frog Prince”, which appeared as a sneaky streak but plays on the topic of deception as cleverly as “The Scorpion and the Frog” in “The Crying Game” that talks about the dark complexities of human nature.
While The Crying Game dealt with racial tensions as an undercurrent of the central idea of a man who does not know anything about women, “Mona Lisa” is more outspoken about it. George is a fanatic and is in a racist, hostile environment full of decadent rich people who prey on young women.
Some may be reminded of Paul Schrader’s “Hardcore” (1979), but the portrayal of a deeply flawed man, trying to do the right thing very late in life, by saving a young girl from an abusive and sexually controlling man, has more than little in common. With “Chinatown” by Roman Polanski (1974).
As George walks the mournful procession of young women humiliating themselves at the gaze of men, Phil Collins plays “In Too Deep” on the soundtrack. It’s a perfect touch—the music provides a romantic contrast to the visuals, in the same way that the opening of Nat King Cole’s “Mona Lisa” plays on George’s uncertain but assertive stroll to his ex-wife’s house.
In his 1996 director’s commentary track, Jordan admitted that Collins’ song was imposed on him by the producer but it’s actually a touch painful (in a strange and unintended part of the synchronicity, Hoskins is like Collins).
Jordan’s heart-wrenching romantic thriller has a particularly harsh ending, comparable to the infamous ending of ‘Chinatown’. Jordan doesn’t give you the finish you hope for but is bold enough to deliver an honest, surprising and reflective finish.
There are touches of comfort that make the journey long-lasting, like a cute subplot involving George’s only friend, and played by the friendly Robbie Coltrane. There is also the main story thread of George being present in his daughter’s life and trying as best he can to make up for lost time.
Quick Fact: Bob Hoskins has landed First gig acting 1968 at the Unity Theatre, London. He was 18 years old at the time, three years after he dropped out of school.
“Mona Lisa” revolves around George’s attempt to start a family, whether it’s real he lost or the one he hopes to start with Simon. Mortwell even assured George that he was “family,” promising him a place in his sinister operation.
It’s also about how deceiving appearances can be, especially when our feelings lead us to overlook the hard and obvious facts before us. While not as surprising as the famous reveal in “The Crying Game,” the mystery that George has to solve with Simone makes us rethink much of the movie afterwards.
Hoskins went from this Academy Award-nominated performance to another stunning and completely different turn as the lead for Robert Zemeckis’ career achievement “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988). Playing detective Eddie Valiant for Zemeckis led to a successful and eclectic career of commercial and eccentric choices, though Hoskins is still best celebrated for his tough and fierce transformations in “The Long Good Friday” (1982) and this.
There are a few small touches that don’t work, especially when Jordan refreshes things with foot chases (although the elevator sequence is particularly well organized). Clark Peters made the most of his limited role as a killer pimp – much later, he established himself as a knockout drama actor by playing the lead roles in Spike Lee’s Red Hook Summer and Da 5 Bloods.
I’ve always been drawn to this movie, as the video rental was going on in my teens and I ended up with the first Criterion Collection DVD I ever bought. I’m happy to note that the prestigious Film Recovery label is re-releasing this on Blu-ray in September, not only because it comes with show and content upgrades, but because it’s still in the works forever.
Jordan’s leading Oscar-winning film “The Crying Game” led to the production of groundbreaking “Interview with the Vampire” (1994), films ranging from passionate personalities (“Michael Collins”) to neo-noirs (“The Good Thief” and The Brave One”) and a few entertaining and curious films (“In Dreams”, “Byzantium” and “Byzantium”).Greta“).
Along with his all-forgotten “Miracle” (a glamorous 1991 movie that starred Beverly D’Angelo and is still out of print), Jordan’s adaptations of “The End of the Affair” and “Mona Lisa” often make for unrequited love tales due to the intrusion of pivotal secrets The hard reality.
“Mona Lisa” is candid and sad, though it is a compassionate work that never poorly exploits its surroundings. Jordan clearly exudes sympathy for the women on screen who are regularly abused by powerful men and the film features George’s character arc with a heightened awareness and anger of the perverted world he inhabits.
He wants a normal life and a loving family, but is this a realistic goal or is it just as fantasy as Simon makes for her clients?
Jordan’s movie is not easy to watch and it will make the hearts of the viewers sad, but it does attract us by creating characters whose flaws are as real as their dreams of escape. This is one of the best films of 1986, and for the late great Hoskins’ extraordinary work alone, it’s a journey well worth taking.
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