Blu-ray Review: Mona Lisa (1986)

Even if a client requests her back, high class call girl Simone (Cathy Tyson) has no illusions about their relationship, telling her new driver George (Bob Hoskins) that “sometimes they fall for what they think I am.”

And quite possibly, had recently released ex-convict George been listening much more closely to Simone, he wouldn't have gotten as “In Too Deep,” as the film's gorgeous Genesis track reminds us while serving as an inner monologue for Hoskins' antihero character.

Or maybe for George, the problem was just the opposite. Namely, despite the fact that he hung on every single word Simone shared, somewhere deep inside – no doubt deluded by a deepening affection for the woman – George felt that this time it was different.

Given a “bleeper” by the sleazy crime boss Mortwell (Michael Caine) on whom he never rolled over to lessen his prison sentence and sent to escort the “tall thin black tart” from one hotel or posh flat to the next, George wasn't one of Simone's clients but rather caught up somewhere between life as her employee and her partner.

Yet even though the two initially got off on the horribly wrong foot with George misunderstanding that in addition to being Simone's chauffeur he was also supposed to play the role of her beard or date, sipping drinks in lobby bars while he waited for her to finish her transactions, soon the two outsiders began to transcend their differences, thrown together by both their loneliness as well as their innate understanding of one another.

However, their dynamic, which to George at least has started to deepen considerably, threatens to explode after Simone hires George to try and track down a younger prostitute about whom she's desperately worried.

And in the process, filmmaker Neil Jordan's Oscar nominated and multiple award winning work begins to wander ever so slightly into the same terrain as Scorsese's Taxi Driver along with twinges of Bunuel's Belle du Jour as Hoskins' George explores the seedy underbelly of London's sex trade.

But because Jordan is overall far more fascinated by the relationships of his lead characters rather than any desire to turn the admittedly dark effort into just another British crime picture in the tradition of Hoskins in Long Good Friday or Caine in Get Carter, he remains true to George and Simone's plight throughout.

Of course, given the players involved and the world in which we’re navigating alongside George in Neil Jordan and David Leland’s screenplay, it’s inevitable that the action will escalate into a sudden burst of gun violence in an old-fashioned Film Noir standoff handled in an unromantic matter-of-fact way.

The violent showdown is admirably executed by Jordan following some clumsily over-the-top handling of George’s ultimate realization about Simone’s true goal, which is dragged out a little too much as the two characters pull each other around the boardwalk in childish sunglasses in a tonally awkward confrontation that never fails to make me cringe each and every time.

Nonetheless, to Jordan’s immense credit, since the emphasis was always on the “journey” instead of the finish line, we’re therefore more wrapped up in the emotional impact than the one presented to us via bullets and bloodshed.

Thus aside from the penultimate misstep, Mona Lisa stands head and shoulders above a majority of other underworld prostitute dramas, due to its obsession with character-driven plotting and emphasis on realism in a film that helped usher in cross-genre UK films such as My Beautiful Laundrette to introduce us to other points-of-view as well as foreshadow some of the thematically similar and intelligently produced material that Jordan would deliver over the next two decades.

One of four pictures from former Beatles musician turned movie producer George Harrison’s company HandMade Films to arrive on Blu-ray recently in an impressive high definition transfer, Mona Lisa makes a particularly fascinating companion piece to watch directly following The Long Good Friday to illustrate the unparalleled charisma of Bob Hoskins onscreen.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.