With its dark and seedy narrative, mixed with off beat humor and performances that are as touching as they are ferocious, Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa is a wonderful deep cut from cinema’s most often overlooked decade, the 1980s.
Bob Hoskins gives a raw and emotionally charged performance as George, a man that time as well as life forgot while he served time in prison for his mob boss Mortwell, played by a sleazy and smarmy Michael Caine. George’s payoff is driving for a high class escort, the exotic Simoe played by Cathy Tyson.
As George’s infatuation for Simone turns into an a love struck obsession, Simoe starts to groom and manipulate George into a graphic and dangerous odyssy to find her friend lost in the rainy streets and swearty backrooms of London.
Neil Jordan pulls a coup de grâce with this film. Hoskins brings his brutish affability to a dangerous and fearsome world that he’s a stranger to; bringing a physicality and soft sensibility to a role that remains his finest on screen performance that boasts his tough guy persona yet yields the floor to his humor and warmth.
Perhaps one of the more underrated aspects of the film is Michael Caine’s turn as the vile and disgusting antagonist who plays in a shade of grey that remains one of Caine’s more unique turns in a career populated with fabulous performances.
The film excels at its bizarre nature, not only using Nat King Cole’s seminal tune of Mona Lisa, but also Genisis’ In Too Deep in an almost jarring montage that works perfectly and quickly becomes one of the most fascinating aspects of the picture.
Mona Lisa is an unsung classic that finds the sweet spot in the canon that is transgressive cinema. It does not compromise a facet of screen time, spending each frame building a brooding and haunting story of how sometimes love can be a wicked game.