Saxophonist Danny witnesses the murder of his band manager and a deaf-mute girl after a gig. Questioned by the police, he remembers only the orthopedic shoes of the killers' leader. So ... See full summary »
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. Written by
"Mona Lisa" is one of those weird Neil Jordan dramedies which resound with more ferocity upon afterthought than while actually watching it. Like "The Crying Game", I was left with no immediate impression of the movie, but days after watching it, I became haunted by the film's ingratiating reality. You can tell you're watching a good movie when you can describe it as "atmospheric" without the film trying overtly to reach for that effect.
Bob Hoskins stars as George, and as we first see him, he is lulling along a dismal London apartment neighborhood with a plastic bag and a fistful of flowers. As he reaches his destination, the audience soon realizes what a heartbroken journey this man's life has been. Indeed his good intentions at seeing his wife and daughter are mired by the wife's stubborn, yet understandable reaction of slamming the door in her ex-convict husband's face.
Soon George is hired by the callous gangster Mortwell (Michael Caine) as a chauffeur for the high-class call girl Simone (Cathy Tyson). He is at first repelled by the "tall black tart", as she remarks about his slovenly appearance. In a subplot structured like a revisionist feminine "Pygmalion", George is made over by the prostitute into the appearance of a "gentleman", a contempestuous appearance which only magnifies his good-hearted nature in comparison with the cold-blooded Mortwell.
Soon, however, George and Simone strike a bond seemingly based on a mutual affection for the souls lurking beneath each facade. Simone details to George an old blonde friend named Cathy still working the streets and implores him to rescue her. Jordan builds upon the elements of "Taxi Driver" here and even pays homage to that film in one scene depicting the front end of George's automobile backlit by a seedy district filled with peep shows and pedophiles.
Of course George is starting to fall for his elegant charge, but his feelings are more of a fatherly nature than anything. Simone seems to feed off this affection, as she states that she does no more than drink tea at the behest of her clients and even provides snapshots of her doing so. This is why it comes as even more of a shock to George when he accidentally discovers a porn video featuring Simone at the provocation of things which her innocent demeanor had previously rendered him incapable of imagining.
Much of "Mona Lisa" is built around human desperation, and indeed one can sense that George, like Travis Bickle or Jimmy Stewart in "Vertigo", is attempting to erroneously place the puzzled-together image of the perfect woman into the jagged emotional contours of his love interest. Of course the title implies this, and Jordan reinforces this symbolization with not only the Da Vinci painting and the Nat "King" Cole ballad, but with the incandescent statues of the Virgin Mary which his friend (Robbie Coltrane) collects. This is unarguably Hoskins' best performance, in a career entirely overlooked by even the most driven of film fanatics. After roles in "The Long Good Friday", "Pink Floyd: The Wall", this, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", and the upcoming "Felicia's Journey", one can deduce the sheer emotional vicissitude which compelled him to aim for, let alone attain, the raw power that comprises his characters.
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