Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mona Lisa

Film: Mona Lisa
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

I find it difficult not to enjoy the performances of Bob Hoskins. Who Framed Roger Rabbit was (I think) my introduction to him as an actor. He always seems like the sort of guy it would be cool to know. Hoskins often plays men with a gruff exterior and a heart of gold. It’s difficult for me to not find that appealing, especially when it’s done as well as Hoskins tends to do it. That’s definitely the case with Mona Lisa, a crime/romance film that has managed to slip under my radar until today.

We start by learning a little bit about George (Hoskins). There’s tension between him and his wife, caused by George spending seven years in prison. Now that he’s out, he’s looking for some payback from Mortwell (Michael Caine), the man he used to work for. He’s given a job he doesn’t much want: driving a high-class prostitute named Simone (Cathy Tyson) to and from her appointments. There is immediate friction between the two, of course, and eventually, they come to both like and trust each other.

A major part of the story is George’s relationship with Thomas (Robbie Coltraine), a friend who makes strange art projects and suggests interesting mystery novels for George to read. As his relationship with Simone changes, George uses Thomas as a sounding board, telling the story of their growing relationship as if it is the plot of a new novel.

Things get interesting when Simone confides in George about Cathy (Kate Hardie), a prostitute she knew from her days on the street. Cathy is under the thumb of a sadist named Anderson (Clarke Peters), who used to control and abuse Simone. She is desperate to find Cathy and asks George to find her, saying that she will happily pay him to do so. At the same time, Mortwell wants information from George about one of Simone’s clients. While it’s never stated outright, it’s evident that Mortwell is looking for a way to blackmail the man and is hoping that George will be the conduit for the information he needs.

The main thing that becomes evident as the film continues is that George begins to fall for Simone, and he falls hard. It’s also evident that he has a very short temper and is prone to lashing out at anything that appears threatening to him and especially to Simone, even if she doesn’t want him to do so.

Hoskins was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for this role, the only time in his career that he was nominated. I find that sort of shocking. I wonder if it’s because Hoskins often comes across as a British version of Joe Pesci. He’s really, really good at what he does, but he tends to do the same thing because he’s so damn good at it. The role he plays here is sort of the standard Hoskins role, which might be why he stopped getting nominations.

Where Mona Lisa really turns is on George’s growing dependence on Simone as an important person in his life and as someone who gives him a certain amount of meaning. The reason it works is because of the failed relationships in George’s life that we know about. His marriage has fallen apart thanks to his time in prison, which means that his relationship with his daughter has fallen apart as well. The impression is given that Simone, in addition to being a romantic interest for him, is also a surrogate daughter. The relationship with his actual daughter is difficult because it’s apparent that his wife hasn’t told her about his being arrested and convicted, only that he abandoned them. He works on the relationship with her slowly, and at times seems to use his feelings toward Simone as a way to understand his parental feelings for his daughter.

It’s worth mentioning that I seem to like Neil Jordan’s films in general. It’s also worth mentioning that Jordan seems to like women of a particular type. It’s impossible not to notice that Cathy Tyson’s Simone has a look and style that seems to have been duplicated by Jaye Davidson in The Crying Game, a Jordan film from several years later.

Is this a great film? Probably not, but it’s a very good one. It’s also Bob Hoskins at his purest and most elemental, and that’s a good enough reason to watch.

Why to watch Mona Lisa: It’s significantly messed up.
Why not to watch: Not every plot point gets handled by the end.


  1. I love this movie but it wasn't until the third time I watched it that I began to think that the whole thing was a story one guy told to another guy and not reality. Did you get that at all? There's a shot at the very end that seems to indicate that.

    I know you are on your own quest but if you have time I would highly suggest Hoskins' performance in the BBC mini-series "Pennies from Heaven". It's on DVD and available ultra-cheap now on Amazon. That might be my favorite performance by Hoskins. It's very disturbing in a lot of ways but worth seeing.

    1. I'll look for it. One of the reasons my posting schedule has gone from its former daily, frenetic pace to four or so per week is to give myself the freedom to watch things I'm interested in seeing without feeling the need to review them.

      As for Mona Lisa, I think that's a possible reading of it, but it's not one I'd choose. I think the events are real, and his relating the story to Thomas is his own rationalization of what happened.