Irish director Neil Jordan (THE CRYING GAME) showed early promise with this "Hollywood-ready" blend of slick visual style and fairly standard genre narrative. MONA LISA has the quality of an outstanding audition.
George (Bob Hoskins), a recently released convict, has just served a seven-year sentence after taking the fall for his mob boss, Mortwell (Michael Caine). Looking to collect his due, George meets with Mortwell and is informed that he's been assigned a job chauffeuring a high-class black call
girl, Simone (Cathy Tyson). George and Simone take an intense dislike to each other at first, but gradually their relationship warms up. Nearly every night, Simone has George drive her through an area where the streetwalkers gather to ply their trade. Here Simone searches for her only friend,
Cathy (Kate Hardie), a 15-year-old whore who once worked for the same pimp (Clarke Peters). Eventually George agrees to descend into the underworld to bring back the young woman, a plot device in the grand tradition of TAXI DRIVER and HARDCORE.
Hoskins is tremendous, giving a sensitive, multi-faceted performance that infuses the film with an inner life. Tyson is perfect as Simone, bringing an enigmatic and exotic air to the role that captures the essence of the title. The ever-reliable Caine is good as the sometimes charming villain.
The plot's similarity to Martin Scorsese's TAXI DRIVER is not lost on director Jordan, who quotes the earlier film several times. The film often is charming and distinctively offbeat, particularly in scenes featuring the delightful Robby Coltrane as Thomas, George's gentle giant of a roommate.
MONA LISA is a detailed, thoughtful film that sensitively explores the emotions within its seedy, exploitative milieu. leave a comment