Mona Lisa ★★★★½

Wow, what an underlooked gem this was. Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa is a engaging piece of neo-noir that despite Bob Hoskins’ Oscar nomination for Best Actor, seems to be somewhat overshadowed by similar films from the time. While it certainly may not be the best film of it's type, I'd still say it's one that's worthy of being rediscovered in some way.

Geroge is an old-time London gangster who has just gotten out of prison having served his sentence. Refused by his ex-wife from seeing his daughter, he is reduced back to working under his old boss Denny Mortwell, who gives him a job as a driver for a high-class escort named Simone (Cathy Tyson). Not long after, Geroge finds himself diving into the dark and depraved world of London's prostitution business as he attempts to locate Cathy, an old friend of Simone's who mysteriously vanished during her time on a seedy corner of Kings Cross.

While Harold Shand was a ruthless thug, Hoskins' performance as George gives us a far more laid-back and sympathetic character, who while feels like an honest bloke in a dangerous profession, still isn't the type you'd want to piss off. I think one of the highlights of Mona Lisa is the intense chemistry between George and Simone. The manner in which their relationship develops of the course of the film just feels very compelling and believable, despite the two being vastly different to one another. Meanwhile, Michael Caine (in one of his more villainous roles) is brilliantly slimy as crime boss Mortwell, while Robbie Coltrane introduces some comic relief as George's best friend Thomas.

While there’s a general feel of smuttiness here, it’s not done in a manner that feels overly sleazy or exploitative. Interestingly enough, despite being set in mid-1980s London, Mona Lisa seems to invoke a very old-school style of film noir, as illustrated by it’s heavy use of nighttime scenes, mystery element, a naive protagonist in George and an elegant but manipulative woman in the heart of it all. Another thing that I feel deserves praise is the soundtrack, from the late Michael Kamen's brilliantly memorising scoring efforts to the welcome addition of Nat King Cole's "Mona Lisa" and "In Too Deep" by Genesis (played over scenes of George exploring London's seedy prostitution joins).

I find it strange that I took a liking to this one so much, since I’m generally not a fan of more romance-based films. For whatever reason however, Mona Lisa really intrigued me from beginning to end, and I’d even go as far as to say I enjoyed it more than The Long Good Friday in various ways. If you love Hoskins in other stuff, then I'd recommend you check this one out.

Oddly, this film has been compared to Taxi Driver a fair bit. While I didn't get much vibes from the latter, I can definitely see the comparison.


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