Mona Lisa (1986)

2 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Mona Lisa” tells the story of a man and woman who start out hating each other before coming to like each other. But unlike most movies that share that premise, “Mona Lisa” delivers in a slap-in-the-face way that it’s not so easy. This is not merely a romance. In fact, it’s hardly a romance. The best way to describe it is to remind of how most of us thought of someone of the opposite sex as not only beautiful and cryptic, but also unattainable. It’s like a crush from afar. Whomever that is, you see that person as a mysterious figure—you don’t know that person’s story or that person’s history, and that notion draws you in further. Only for the most part, you find out more about that person and find that you weren’t very pleased by that person’s personality. But until then, that person is like Da Vinci’s portrait of the Mona Lisa. In “Mona Lisa,” George (Bob Hoskins) feels the same way. His representation of the Mona Lisa is a young, beautiful prostitute named Simone (Cathy Tyson). She’s attractive, mysterious, and unreachable—but who is this person, really?

George is a foot soldier for the London underworld, working for the smooth boss (Michael Caine) who may have been the reason he served a long term in prison. Now that he’s released, and with hardly a way of connecting to his family (including a teenage daughter he never got to know), he is hired by the boss’ henchman to chauffer a young, tall, black, striking local prostitute, Simone. Their first meeting is not hopeful. George is repulsed by her profession; Simone sees him as a cheap bastard. They argue frequently, day and night, until they realize that they enjoy (and are entertained by) each other’s arguments. They form somewhat of a friendship with each other, and Simone sees something in George that could help her with a certain thing. She tells him a story that ends with her subtly asking for help, which he does offer once she’s finished her story. But what he learns causes trouble for himself and Simone.

“Mona Lisa” is more of a drama and a thriller than it is a romance, but more importantly it is an effective character study of George. Here is this conflicted criminal, working for such a sleazeball like Michael Caine’s character, who puts himself back in the underworld even though he should be reformed after a stint in prison. But he still would like to get to know his young daughter, despite his ex-wife’s objections. And then there is his fascination with Simone, as he finds himself able to love. Although, the relationship between George and Simone is purely platonic—there’s not a scene in which they sleep together, which is what you would expect in a film like this. But the main problem is that most of what Simone tells him isn’t true, and she is actually using him to get to someone else that she loves—this upsets George; his feelings are hurt; and worst of all, he doesn’t know how to cope with his feelings. Bob Hoskins was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his performance here; it’s easy to see why. He’s brilliant in the role, effectively delivering a credible, sympathetic character to follow throughout the film. He’s ably supported by a luminescent Cathy Tyson, a menacing Michael Caine, and strong support by Robbie Coltrane as George’s friend who gives George a place to stay.

“Mona Lisa” is a great film with solid acting, some good surprises here and there, and a great deal of atmosphere in the way the writer-director manages to capture the essence of the streets of London, both night and day. And it delivers a concept about love that is not only heartbreaking, but even more so, it’s true.

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