Review by Michael Jacobson
Hoskins, Cathy Tyson, Michael Caine, Katie Hardie
Director: Neil Jordan
Audio: Dolby Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Anchor Bay
Features: Theatrical Trailer
Length: 104 Minutes
Release Date: April 4, 2006
Like the legendary painting that bears her name, Neil
Jordan’s film Mona Lisa is a work of art that intrigues with a smile
that suggests it’s hiding something. There
are many surprises along the way to pepper this moving character study, and
Jordan delights in revealing them to us at the same time he reveals them to his
That character is George (Hoskins), whom we first see
making the long walk back to his home after his release from prison.
He carries the infamous little brown package of all the belongings that
went into the institution with him, and he seems small and almost lost against
the much larger background of London. His
first real human encounter is when he shows up at his ex-wife’s flat, hoping
to refresh his relationship with his now nearly grown daughter.
It’s an immediate fiasco for him.
George is returning to a criminal world that has changed
since he first went to jail over seven years ago. He shows up at the headquarters of his old boss Mortwell
(Caine) ready to work again. He
finds himself with a job as a driver for a high priced black call girl, Simone
(Tyson). They are as mismatched as
you can get: she is, despite her
occupation, a woman of class and taste. George
is, by his own admission, “cheap” and unrefined…and perhaps even a bit of
What keeps George on the edge is his naivety about the
world that Simone occupies; a world that she’s wholly cool about, but seems
poised to shock and horrify the baffled George at every corner. As her driver, he’s also her protector, a job he has the
muscle but not the sense for.
The most obvious route Jordan could have taken would be for
these characters to fall in love, but there’s an interesting twist:
George and Simone have mismatched needs, and while George does begin to
fall for her, the problem is that she can’t fulfill his needs, nor he for her.
The emotional attachment he begins to develop brings him
into a new development, when Simone pleads his help in finding another
prostitute that used to work with her under an abusive pimp.
Simone got out, Cathy (Hardie) did not.
Now that Simone has evolved into an independent (and financially
well-off) woman, she wants to help her old friend.
George finds himself on a journey into hell, of sorts.
He drives down dark streets where the hookers emerge from the darkness
toward his car like lost souls in the river Styx, and at the end of that road is
the seediest district of London—a world of strip clubs and peep shows, where
George mutters about some of the girls “I’ve got a daughter that age!”.
As mentioned, there is more to this film than initially
meets the eye. George is successful
in bringing Cathy to Simone, but his actions don’t make him a hero in her
eyes…it turns out there was an entirely different motive altogether behind her
request. George’s frail visions
begin to unravel, especially when he finds that his sleazy boss Mortwell really
gave him the driver’s job so he could dig up dirt on both Simone and her
There are other surprises that I’ll leave for you to
discover…each one is a satisfying twist that keep the film moving towards its
harsh and possibly inevitable finale. This
is a taut, well scripted and masterfully directed film from Jordan, whose clear
vision about his characters and the world they occupy make for an engrossing
story. Just the concept of the
heavy protector being more lost and naïve than the prostitute he works for
opens up the film for numerous possibilities, and Jordan doesn’t fail to
Bob Hoskins’ performance is stunning.
He’s one of our best character actors, and he delivers the best work of
his career here as George, bringing to the screen all the subtle nuances of a
complex human being whose outdated ideas are setting him up for emotional
destruction. His Oscar nomination
for this movie was well deserved. Also
good is Cathy Tyson in her first film role—pretty and cool, she is in some
ways the kinder version of the classic femme fatale image.
It is not really her that breaks George, but rather his vision of her.
“Do men fall
in love with you?” he asks at one point.
Her cautious reply: “They
fall in love with who they think I am.” And
then, sadly enough, George does exactly the same thing.
Most films from the 80s on
DVD aren’t good looking,
but Anchor Bay usually does the best job with them, so Mona Lisa is quite better than most.
I've seen it on a few different
entertainment centers and
it looks good on all of them. The transfer maintains a strong integrity of imagery throughout, with
sharp lines and crisp detail, even in darker scenes.
The coloring is perhaps a shade less bright than normal, but still
preserves a natural look with its flesh tones and occasionally extreme lighting
signatures, with no bleeding or distortions.
A bit of grain is inherent in one or two lower lit scenes, probably from
the film’s original contrast. The
print is quite clean, and all in all, serves as a good, if not reference
quality, DVD presentation.
The original single channel mono
soundtrack is perfectly
good if unspectacular: dialogue,
music cues and sound effects are all clean and clear, with a fair amount of
dynamic range, and no noticeable noises or distortions throughout.
Only a trailer.